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Right-to-Work Checks for UK Nationals

Volume 812: debated on Tuesday 18 May 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to end online right-to-work checks for United Kingdom nationals.

My Lords, from 21 June, right-to-work checks will revert from the Covid-19-adjusted measures to face-to-face physical document checks for those who cannot use the Home Office online checking service. We are currently evaluating the potential for introducing specialist technology, including identity document validation technology, into the right-to-work checking service. This would provide a permanent digital option for those unable to use the online checking service.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what has the feeling of being, perhaps, an encouraging Answer. The online verification of right to work during Covid has been a huge success for the Home Office. The system works really well; no one I have spoken to is aware of any serious issues. It avoids frauds; it is much more efficient and effective for companies; and it really promotes remote working, helping people in unemployment blackspots get jobs many miles away. What is the reason for junking it? Who benefits? I really do not understand.

Well, I am glad my noble friend feels he got a positive Answer because, in fact, employers have been very positive about the temporary measures we have put in place. It is not about “junking it”; it is about the fact that it has been a temporary measure. Obviously, legislation has not been changed in this regard, and we made it clear that we would revert to the full checking regime in line with the lifting of social distancing measures. But I hope that my noble friend is encouraged by the moves we intend to make going forward.

If the temporary measure has been successful and there is no need for return to physical right-to-work checks, why not continue with the temporary measure? We do not really seem to have had an answer to that question.

The answer is actually quite clear: we need to check the security of what might go forward. We are undertaking a review of the value of using specialist technology, including identity document validation, in supporting the system of digital right-to-work checks to include UK and Irish citizens, as they are not in scope of the Home Office online checking services.

My Lords, not only are the Government insisting on in-person physical right-to-work checks but some parents say they are being asked by schools to produce passports to prove their child’s right to education as a result of the UK’s departure from the European Union. Can the Minister confirm whether the Home Office is requiring schools to do this and, if so, on what legal basis? If it is not, will the Minister take urgent steps to stop this practice?

Well, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for a heads-up this morning, and it is important to say to him that Brexit has not changed the rights of foreign nationals to access schools. State schools do not have a role in policing the immigration system. Independent schools, with sponsor licences, do have an explicit duty to have documents proving the right to stay in the UK. I do not know the details of the noble Lord’s case, but I would be most grateful to have some further detail, and perhaps we can discuss it further.

My Lords, following the move to more distanced right-to-work checks during the coronavirus pandemic via video link, in operation to 21 June 2021, can the Minister comment on what measures were taken to check against fraud and abuse of this process? What were the findings?

Well, my noble friend asks the absolutely crucial question. We need security measures in place to ensure that the system is robust. What we have had in place as a temporary measure will, I am sure, be evaluated in due course. But she goes right to the heart of what we need when we progress towards more regular online checking.

My Lords, it has been reported that EU nationals arriving here who were believed to be seeking work were immediately detained in places such as Yarl’s Wood and deported. Apparently, this has stopped, but what sort of example does the Minister think it sets for the treatment of British citizens in the EU? Secondly, EU nationals who have been British citizens for decades are getting letters telling them they risk losing rights to work, healthcare and benefits unless they apply for settled status in the next six weeks. But they do not need this. Why are the Home Office records so poor?

My Lords, EU citizens who have applied to the EU settlement scheme should not be detained in Yarl’s Wood unless there is some exception such as, for example, criminality. In terms of people getting letters, I am sure the reminders are helpful; they are not intended to be hostile in nature.