Source: UK Home Office

Businesses must source migrant labour through legal means or face severe penalties, the Home Office announced today as part of its comprehensive programme to reform Britain’s immigration controls.

The Government is setting out new measures to prevent illegal working following a consultation with UK businesses. Under a new system of civil penalties, employers who negligently hire illegal workers could face a maximum fine of £10,000 for each illegal worker found at a business. If employers are found to have knowingly hired illegal workers they could incur an unlimited fine and be sent to prison.

These measures, which take effect in February, will make it easier than ever before for employers to carry out checks and for the Border and Immigration Agency to deal with non-compliance.

The civil penalties form part of the biggest immigration shake-up for forty years, sitting alongside a programme of changes that will ensure the system is fit for the future. Other the next 12 months the Agency will also introduce:

  • An Australian-style points based system to make sure only workers with the skills to benefit Britain’s economy come to the UK;
  • A single border force bringing together the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs and UKvisas providing a tougher, highly visible policing presence at Britain’s ports and airports; and
  • Compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals allowing us to know who is here and what they are entitled to.Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said of the new civil penalties:

“By stamping out illegal working we are making the UK a less attractive destination for illegal migration.

“The new civil penalties are a more effective way of dealing with employers who use slipshod or exploitative recruitment methods. Together with the introduction of compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals next year, there can be no excuse for not checking the identity of those applying for jobs.

“By working together with employers and others we have developed a system that delivers the migrants the UK needs, but which also keeps out those that it does not.”

Chris Gillespie, HR Director of NCP Services, said:

“We employ staff from more than 100 nations so we often see people who do not have the right to work in this country trying to gain employment with very convincing forged documents. We work closely with the Home Office to ensure our processes and procedures are kept up to date.

“Illegal working cannot be tackled by the Government alone and it’s every employer’s duty to ensure that they conduct the proper checks on prospective employees.

“Illegal working exploits vulnerable people, undermines fair business competition and the minimum wage and deprives the economy of tax and National Insurance contributions. These proposals will help ensure we close down illegal working and develop routes for employers to recruit legally the foreign workers they need to grow their businesses.”

The Government today also published a Statement of Intent setting out a new approach for licensing employers or colleges who wish to sponsor migrants for visa applications. Under the Points Based System employers and colleges will need a license in order to sponsor migrants. To earn and hold a licence they must agree to fulfil certain duties.

Employers will need to understand how these changes, under the Points Based System and the new civil penalty regime, will affect recruitment and employment practices. To build awareness the Government is also launching a national press advertising campaign today and has enhanced the employment verification scheme for employers.

The Border and Immigration Agency undertakes regular enforcement operations against illegal working throughout the UK. Last month 49 people were arrested in a single raid in Chinatown, while an operation in Gateshead led to ten arrests; and 14 people were arrested after an operation at a restaurant in Ipswich. In 2006 alone, the Agency carried out over 5,200 illegal working operations and removed more than 22,000 people from the UK.

The new measures are part of a broader package of proposals introduced to toughen border controls, increase enforcement activity and enhance joint working with police and other Government agencies in order to tackle illegal immigration and its consequences.

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