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UK SMEs to be ‘hit from all angles’ by new immigrant employment rules

Employing illegal immigrants, even unwittingly, could result in five years’ jail, remarks from the immigration minister suggest. How can your business adapt?

Many SME businesses have long relied on foreign labour to fill positions UK citizens are reluctant to take. But as immigration has become an controversial political issue, employing immigrants has become ever more risky.

The forthcoming Immigration Bill is an attempt to address perceptions of the UK as a ‘soft touch’ on illegal migration.

Construction, cleaning and care have been singled out for a crackdown, although takeaway restaurants and off-licences will also be targeted with specific measures. Minicab drivers and operators have been mentioned, although it is as yet uncertain how they will be affected.

Illegal immigrants

For employers, the legal situation will become a lot more hostile. Business owners will no longer be able to claim they were unaware an employee was not allowed to work. Instead, the onus is on employers to prove that they carried out proper checks on staff.

Penalties will also increase: employers found guilty could now be jailed for five years (up from two years), as well as paying the harsh fines already in force (up to £20,000 per person).

With net migration to the UK at an all-time high, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Government’s approach to immigration will only get tougher.


Top tips to ensure your business is immigration compliant

Double check employment immigration status

All UK employers, not matter what sector, must check their workers’ Right to Work before any employee starts work. In short this means:

  • You must see the worker’s original documents.
  • You must check that the documents are valid with the worker present.
  • You must make and keep copies of the documents and record the date you made the check.

… but checking the Government guidelines is strongly advised. While taking professional advice is not cheap, it is likely to be a lot less costly than a £20,000 fine (and possible jail sentence)

Keep a close eye on agencies

Agency workers can help shift the burden of compliance to the supplying agency. But, with inconvenient investigations often focusing on known offenders, you should do all you can to protect yourself. Your contract should unambiguously require robust checks be carried out and that all workers have a confirmed Right to Work. Make sure you keep copies of all documents. Remember that using an agency does not remove all risk: an agency worker may legally be your employee under certain circumstances. Do your research on agencies and use one with a good reputation.

Check self-employed workers’ immigration status

While you do not have legally have to ensure self-employed workers have a Right to Work. But unwittingly employing a self-employed illegal immigrant can have other consequences. In addition to increased scrutiny from the authorities, you may lose an important worker with no notice and suffer reputational damage. Carrying out a Right to Work check is a small price for avoiding such impacts.

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