Firms face fines for illegal workers

Employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants will now be liable for an unlimited fine or up to two years imprisonment, the Home Office announced today.

Companies could also face a civil penalty if they are deemed negligent in carrying out checks on employees, meaning workers could be forced to produce a birth certificate or ID card.

The move is the latest measure in the government’s crack down on illegal immigration and is designed to reduce the UK’s attractiveness as a destination for migrant workers.

Last month, the Home Office launched an Australian-style points-based immigration system, which requires companies to ‘sponsor’ foreign employees and assume responsibility for their conduct.

It also announced all foreign nationals would be made to carry compulsory ID cards.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne said: “To combat illegal immigration it is not enough to stop illegal journeys. We have to close down the illegal jobs that tempt people to try their luck coming to Britain.

“That means making it easier for companies to check whether someone is here legally – but also coming down much harder on businesses which break the rules or turn a blind eye.

The measures form part of the department’s illegal action working plan, launched today. The plan will be coordination through the new Border and Immigration Agency.

A consultation on the scale of the fines was also opened today, before the rules come into force later this year. It is thought employers will receive a discount if they attempted to check employees’ status.

Marcia Roberts, chief executive officer of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), added: “This move has to be backed up with firm and fair enforcement. REC will be working with the Home Office to ensure that the new civil penalties regime lives up to that mantra and that the activities of rogue operators are addressed.”

The Home Office will launch a pilot on the best way to help businesses carry out checks on migrants’ identity and their right to work. Campaigns in the national media and through direct mail will help to education firms.

But the department also plans to employ 1,200 officers to check-up on employers.

However, the Conservatives have questioned the value of new measures when the Home Office is struggling to enforce existing restrictions.

Shadow home secretary, David Davis said: “In 2005 only 23 people were prosecuted for employing illegally. Instead of seeking new powers, the government should enforce the ones we already have.”

The full illegal working action plan includes; tougher checks on would-be illegal immigrants before they enter the country, compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals, an employee checking service to support employers, sponsorship of new immigrants; penalties for rules breakers, and tougher enforcement and education.