- A new Immigration Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech on 27 May 2015 and further details of the bill have been released in recent months. The roll out of the bill falls within a landscape of increasing numbers of fines and prosecutions levied against businesses who are found to be illegally employing staff in the UK. For example on 11 November 2015, two managers of a Reading based nail bar were sentenced to 100 hours unpaid work and 12 weeks in prison, suspended for two years under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. This follows previous prosecutions against a range of businesses as highlighted in our Law at Work article.
- The Immigration Bill proposes to make it a criminal offence for someone to work illegally, with a sanction of a fine and/or a custodial sentence. The Home Office will be granted wide ranging powers including:
- the power to prosecute employers who employ someone who they “know or have reasonable cause to believe” is an illegal worker (currently the requirement is that employers must “knowingly” be employing illegal migrants so this is a much broader test) and increase the custodial sentences it can impose for breach of this requirement from 2 years to 5 years;
- close businesses that flout the law by employing people illegally for up to 48 hours where those businesses have an existing history of non-compliance with immigration rules. This closure might be cancelled if the employer was able to demonstrate that it had conducted compliant right to work checks on its workers. If it cannot do so the Home Office would have the power to place the business under court directed special compliance requirements which could include continued closure for a period, only permitting the business to re-open if it is subject to the requirement to conduct right to work checks and inspections for compliance; and
- seize wages from illegal workers as the proceeds of crime as well as imposing custodial sentences of up to 6 months on illegal workers.
The proposed new measures under the Immigration Bill will build on legislation which the Home Office introduced in 2014 to strengthen the penalties for employers who employed staff illegally, including the doubling of the maximum civil penalty from £10,000 to £20,000 per illegal worker. It is interesting to note that in 2014/15 1,974 civil penalties were issued to businesses who were held to be employing illegal workers suggesting that this is becoming an increasingly popular revenue tool for the Home Office.