An interview with vSure Founder Mark Webster

M Webster

What was your main inspiration for forming vSure?

When the Employer Sanctions legislation came into force in 2013, I realised that this put businesses hiring temporary visa holders at significant risk.

Under the legislation, employers face fines of $15,000 or more for any worker in breach of visa conditions. Immigration no longer needs to show any element of fault or knowledge on the part of the employer, and the employer is liable even if the person is a contractor rather than a direct employee. There’s also personal liability for directors and company officers.

Having worked in the immigration field for 15 years, I realised that many employers were not equipped to ensure they were compliant with the new legislation. Many employers rely on the visa holder to tell them about their visa status and this is very dangerous. Even viewing a visa label or grant letter does not protect employers under the new laws.

I created vSure as an easy way for employers to comply with the new legislation, and so avoid fines and other sanctions under the Migration Act.

What is the primary focus or emphasis for the vSure business model?

Our mission is to be the industry standard in visa checks and immigration compliance.

We will do this by making immigration compliance as straightforward as possible for our clients.

Simplicity and ease of use is the central philosophy in product design.

We’ve worked hard to make vSure easy to use, even for non-technical people. Once set up, vSure makes it easy to see at a glance which workers have an issue and which are OK for now. The email, SMS and calendar reminders make it just about impossible to miss a visa expiry. Our visa checks are much easier to understand than the somewhat cryptic VEVO status checks.

At the same time, vSure automatically saves a paper trail of visa checks which can be used to establish a statutory defence if there is a problem.

What would you say is the single most important benefit of using vSure?

You can have absolute assurance that your business is compliant with the Employer Sanctions Act.

What is the main point of differentiation between vSure and traditional Visa Checks?

vSure saves your business a huge amount of time as compared to traditional visa checks, and also significantly reduces your immigration compliance risk.

vSure allows you to check your entire workforce with a single click. A check of several thousand staff members only takes a few minutes on vSure. Checking the same number manually might take your team a whole month.

In particular, using the Department of Home Affairs VEVO system requires you to manually enter the visa holder’s passport information each time. You would then need to save the visa check in the employee’s file, understand what the VEVO check is saying and produce a report on visa holders. vSure does all of this for you effortlessly.

Many HR departments manage visa expiry dates by maintaining a spreadsheet. This is very risky because it is impossible to guarantee that the information is correct. The classic example is data entry errors (eg swapping the day and month for a visa expiry – very easy to do if accidentally using US date format). With vSure, you can see everyone’s status on a single page and know that the information is correct. Because visa checking is automated, it’s easier to get assurance that the information you are looking at is current.

Were there any obstacles when you were creating the vSure? If so, how did you overcome these?

To get started, we had to build a connector to the Department of Home Affairs visa database. This was technically challenging to say the least!

A few months after we built the connector, Immigration completely changed their system so we had to start over!

Once we started working with larger corporates, we found that the real issue they were facing was obtaining the appropriate consent from the visa holders quickly and efficiently. As a result, we built our privacy and consent module which allows businesses to manage the consent gathering process through vSure. This saves a huge amount of time for HR departments and allows them to transition onto vSure much more quickly, whilst covering off any privacy issues.

How does it work?

First, you gather the details of your staff – we need their name, date of birth and passport details. Our privacy/consent module can do this for you – for instance, you can just paste the email addresses of your staff into vSure and the system will request the relevant details from the staff.

You then decide how often you would like to check your staff – once a fortnight, once a month or once a quarter. vSure will then schedule an automated check and send you a report on the current status of all staff via email. You can also set up reminders via SMS to your mobile, and calendar reminders for visa expiries.

You can group your staff – for instance into office locations – so that you can do visa checks for a certain cohort of staff.

When you request a visa check through vSure, we connect through to the Department of Home Affairs and obtain details of their current visa. The result is colour coded so you can see the risk level straight away – for instance if the visa holder has no work rights or their visa is expiring within the next 2 weeks, they are coloured red.

How can the client be sure of the integrity of the vSure visa check process?

Integrity is a core value of our business and is integral in everything we do. Our clients rely on us to provide correct information on visa status.

The information on the visa held is obtained directly from the Department of Home Affairs. The data is then stored in vSure for display to the user. In the case of any doubt, you can click a button to view the original information which has been provided by the Department of Home Affairs.

What are the primary drivers for an automated visa check?

Many employers check the visa status prior to hiring. That’s good, but it’s not enough under the Employer Sanctions Act. This is because it’s an offence to allow someone to continue working if they are in breach of visa conditions. Employers have to check their staff “at reasonable times” to avoid liability under the legislation.

At vSure, we recommend that people check visa status for temporary and bridging visa holders regularly. For instance:

  • A bridging visa holder may have full work rights, but their visa will cease within 28 days if their application is refused
  • Working holiday makers can work full time, but often change visa – for instance if they transfer to a student visa, they can only work for 40 hours a fortnight in general
  • Student visa holders face cancellation if they discontinue studies
  • If they break up with their partner, a temporary partner visa holder may become unlawful
  • Even New Zealand citizens can have their visa cancelled if they commit a criminal offence

Unless you are checking regularly, you have no way of knowing if any of the above have happened. You definitely should not rely on your employee to tell you!

That’s why we created the automated check feature – it checks your staff regularly to make sure the visa information you have is current. If they visa holder has changed visa, you’ll be notified and can talk to the staff member if there is a work restriction.

Who would benefit the most from the vSure?

An employer who has more than 10 temporary visa holders can definitely benefit from vSure.

Up to 10, it’s possible to manage using a spreadsheet. After 10, the complexity gets too much to handle manually.

We have identified particular industries which tend to have a large number of staff on temporary visas – for instance:

  • Payroll and labour hire companies
  • Aged care
  • Hospitality
  • Retail
  • Resources
  • Education

What kind of organizations are you looking to have as partners?

We are happy to partner up with businesses which have existing relationships with HR departments – for instance:

  • HR consultants
  • Migration Agents
  • Recruiters
  • Employment Screening Agencies

We see potential for such businesses adding immigration compliance through vSure to their suite of service offerings.

What’s next?

With a mature product and some great foundation clients, we are ready to cross the chasm to mass adoption. We’d like to work with partners and distributors as much as we can to get to market quickly.

In 2016 we will offer a product for individual visa holders which will complement vSure’s product for HR departments. Watch this space!