Immigration Compliance & Reputational Risk


Immigration compliance is an area of reputational risk employers ignore at their peril.

We are seeing increasing instances of well-known organisations facing civil and criminal penalties for breaches of their immigration duties. It seems no organisation is too large or too reputable to avoid Home Office scrutiny.

All UK employers are required by law to meet the prevention of illegal working regulations, and while sponsor licence holders must also meet additional compliance duties.

Employers must meet their duties. Ignorance is no defence to a breach. Employers remain liable even if they were ‘unknowingly’ employing illegal workers.

If you are found to be employing workers illegally, in addition to the punitive Home Office measures, the likelihood is you may also have to deal with the negative impact on your organisation’s reputation.

Reputational damage

Your reputation is a highly valuable corporate asset.

Any association with illegal working practices has the potential to cause significant and lasting damage to how your organisation is perceived in the market.

Consider the reactions of each of your stakeholder groups, for example:

  • Buyers – your customers / clients may go elsewhere. Can you afford a hit in sales?
  • Employees – any association with illegal employment will impact employee morale and your ability to retain and attract talent.
  • Shareholders – share prices and brand equity take a hit through loss of confidence.
  • Suppliers – suppliers may take this an opportunity to renegotiate trading terms due to a weakened market position.
  • Regulators – the impact of a civil penalty can include downgrading or even withdrawal of your sponsor licence, and your ability to hire non-EEA workers. Could you operate without migrant personnel?
  • Media – the media remains influential, and much is dependent on how you handle press enquiries and attention, and if or what is published. This may require expertise in crisis communications.
  • General public – social media has made a publisher of everyone. How you respond will have a direct impact on how you are perceived.
  • Local community – you may face increased cynisim or loss of support resulting in an impact on footfall and business.
  • Competitors – expect your competition to take advantage of the opportunity to gain market share from you.


Managing the fall-out of reputational harm requires time, resources and expertise – all in addition to the handling of the penalty itself.

So employers are starting to sharpen their approach to immigration compliance, to prevent any accusation of illegal working arising in the first place.

This means ensuring all areas of global mobility and immigration operations, systems and processes are effective and compliant.

Safeguard your reputation

The commercial reality is, organisations have to find the balance between meeting their duties in a way that is operationally and financially viable.

Undertaking an immigration audit is highly effective in identifying areas of risk and recommendations to address potential or actual breaches, before the Home Office exercises its powers to investigate compliance.

For example, one common area of compliance risk relates to List B employees, that is, those employees who and staying informed of the changing status of personnel with time-limited permission to work in the UK.

Minimsing the reputational damage of a civil penalty

If you receive a civil penalty notice for illegal employment, panic may well set in. The prospect of dealing with the Home Office can be hugely daunting, and the need to resolve the issue with minimal financial and reputational impact is critical.

You may feel under pressure to settle quickly to make the matter ‘go away’. But this may not always be the best strategy for your organisation.

You need to decide which is the best course of action to take for your organisation. Given what is at stake, it is advisable to seek professional advice on the merit of your case.

If you are in breach, it will likely be a case of making the payment, seeking to negotiate more favourable terms, while limiting the potential for reputational damage.

There may however be grounds for you to object to the penalty notice and challenge the civil penalty, relying on the statutory excuse with a view to having the fine dismissed.

Irrespective of the route you take, a civil penalty should result in steps being taken to rectify issues and areas of risk within your organisation to avoid further civil and criminal penalties, and future breaches.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris’ team of business immigration lawyers have substantial experience in all aspects of immigration compliance and prevention of illegal working. Whether you are facing Home Office enforcement action, or are taking a proactive approach to avoiding compliance breaches, we can help.

For further information about our immigration audit service, or any query relating to compliance, please contact us.


Last updated: 12 November 2020


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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