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What is a visa or work rights check?

1/12/2022
7
min read
A visa in a passport

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Confirming an individual’s right to work in a specific country is an essential element of the recruitment process.

Any employee recruited to your organisation must have the appropriate rights and correct documentation for employment.

Work rights and visas should be identified and validated early on in the process, ideally in a streamlined and automated way.

The failure to clarify if a person is able to legally work in a country can have monumental repercussions for employers such as financial penalties, time and cost wastage, reputation damage, and in some more serious cases, imprisonment. 

What are work rights and visa checks?

Work rights are an individual’s legal approval to work in a given country, in what capacity they can work and for how long. 

A visa is a form of permission for a non-citizen to enter, transit or remain in a particular country. Work visas vary from country to country and in what jobs workers can take, the number of hours they can work and any other special visa conditions that must be met.

In the UK for example, work visas are broken into four broad categories - “long-term visas”, “short-term visas”, “investor, business development and talent visas”, and “other work visas and exemptions”. Each category has a number of sub-category visas. 

Some of the visas, such as the UK Ancestry work visa, allow for unrestricted work so long as the criteria are met. A Skilled Workers visa isn’t limited in the hours you can work, but to obtain the visa the worker must first be sponsored by a UK employer, so it is only valid for that single role. 

Other visas exist for volunteer workers, graduates, professional sports people, contractors and more. The number of visas and their individual allowances and restrictions is a good example of why it’s so important to ensure that candidates have the correct visas for the employment they are seeking. 

Work visas for the United States (US) follow a similar track but have numerous categories for temporary workers, as well as special visas for members of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

US work visas are categorised by an alphanumeric code. All “H” classification visas, for example, are related to general temporary work and “O” classification visas deal with temporary scientific work.

The US also requires foreign journalists to have a special work “I” visa to report from inside the country, even if they are employed by an organisation in another country.

Visas can be equally complex in Australia. According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection:

“Legal workers are Australian citizens, permanent residents, and New Zealand citizens.

Some visa holders are also legal workers. Not all visas allow people to work. Some Australian visas have work restrictions which may include not being able to work at all or only being able to work with a certain employer or a specific number of hours. Foreign nationals who don’t have a valid visa are not allowed to work in Australia. This might include a person whose visa has expired or been cancelled.”

Although the above quote was originally written to explain the visa system in Australia, it really indicates how complex and confusing it can be.

Why are work rights and visa checks important?

Work rights and visa checks are mandatory legal requirements for new staff and one that could save your business from large penalties and fines later down the track.

When hiring a new staff member, part of the responsibility as an employer is understanding and following the rules for that candidate’s working rights in the country.

For an individual in Australia, if you decide to, or accidentally work illegally, you could face fines of up to $63,000 and/or five years imprisonment. Companies face an additional $315,000 in penalties. The Australian Department of Home Affairs enforces these regulations heavily.

If a company is found to have knowingly employed illegal immigrants, then they may also suffer jail time, as well as extreme reputational damage for putting their country at potential risk.

In the United States, employing someone without a valid work visa can accrue a fine of up to $11,000 per employee as well as a maximum sentence of six months in prison. Workers without visas, or using the wrong visa may also be deported to their country of origin.

What do work rights and visa checks reveal?

Depending on the country checking the work eligibility of a candidate, the name of the visa and work rights check may vary. In Australia, the check is referred to as a Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) check. In the US and UK, they’re referred to as Right to Work Checks. No matter the name used, all checks reveal similar information.

  • Which type of visa is held and its expiry date.
  • The person's "must not arrive after" date.
  • The person's period of stay and visa details and conditions.

Aside from the key details about the visa, no other information is given.

When should an employer conduct work rights and visa checks?

According to employment law in most countries, anyone employing a non-citizen or non-resident should perform a visa and work rights check during the hiring process. Part of this process can be simple and automated. Many organisations ask in the job application process whether or not the candidate is a permanent resident or citizen. If someone answers that they are, employers will often ask for proof in the form of a visa in their passport for permanent residents or in the case of citizens a citizen ID or certificate. 

Anyone who does not identify themselves as a citizen should have their work rights and visa status checked. Similarly, anyone that cannot prove citizenship should have their work rights investigated.

Imagine the frustration of advancing an individual down the onboarding funnel only to find out that they’re not legally permitted to work in your country or have strict working conditions that don’t fit the employer’s needs. To avoid wasting time and money, work rights and visa checks should be examined early on in the recruitment process.

How to conduct work rights and visa checks

Employers can check work rights and visa status by using the official system used in their countries, such as VEVO in Australia, VisaView in New Zealand, E-Verify in the US, or the Right to Work service in the UK.

Although the names of the checks differ, the information required to perform them remains broadly the same. To check a visa, an employer needs information such as the name of the candidate, date of birth, passport number (or immigration card number) and the country of issue of the passport or immigration card.

If an organisation does not want to perform checks manually, a number of third-party companies can perform visa and work rights checks as part of a suite of possible employment background checks that they may wish to make part of their hiring funnel.

Do I need a candidate’s permission before conducting work rights and visa checks?

Yes. To carry out a work rights and visa check a candidate must be willing to do so as they must provide the information and relevant documentation to be cross-checked and analysed.

If they are unwilling to do so, put simply, they won’t get the job.

In terms of good practice and transparency, it is advisable that companies inform their candidates that they will be carrying out work rights and visa checks, along with other verification checks, as part of their pre-screening and onboarding process. 

It’s best practice to inform candidates as early as possible that these background checks may be needed as it gives them time to collect paperwork and may help to reduce bottlenecks in the hiring process.

What other verification checks should I conduct? 

There are many other employment verification checks you may choose to perform or be required by law to conduct. These include, but are not limited to:

Conclusion

Right to work and visa checks are important parts of the hiring process for anyone hiring a non-citizen or resident. There are a huge number of visas that different countries can issue that offer people the right to work, but the work conditions, number of hours that may be worked, and industries that may be worked in can be limited by the visa that has been applied for or given.

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