The government has today published its latest Immigration Bill which makes further provisions to tackle illegal migration.

The three main themes include:

  • New measures cracking down on the exploitation of low-skilled workers, increasing the punishments for employing illegal migrants, and strengthening sanctions for working illegally
  • Building on the Immigration Act 2014 to ensure that only people living lawfully in the UK can have access to UK bank accounts, driving licences and rental accommodation
  • Increasing powers to make it easier to remove people who have no right to be in the UK

Employing illegal migrants

The maximum criminal sanction for employing illegal migrants has increased from two to five years. Illegal migrants are now subject to a maximum sentence of up to 51 weeks or a fine or both.

Bank accounts

New measures relating to bank accounts require banks to carry out immigration checks in relation to current accounts. This follows provisions introduced in the Immigration Act 2014 which prohibit banks from opening accounts for illegal migrants. The frequency of checks will be prescribed in Regulations. Banks will be required to notify the Secretary of State if checks confirm the account holder no longer has permission to remain in the UK. Enforcement action will include freezing accounts and/or ultimately closing the accounts.

These provisions will potentially have devastating consequences for those who are not able to produce satisfactory evidence of their right to remain in the UK, as data held by the Home Office and other bodies is not always up to date.

Residential tenancies

Following the provisions in the Immigration Act 2014 requiring landlords and/or their agents to check the immigration status of tenants, this Bill now introduces criminal sanctions of imprisonment of up to five years for non-compliance, or a fine or both.

Driving in the UK

A new criminal sanction has been introduced of driving whilst an illegal migrant which carries a sentence of up to 51 weeks imprisonment or a fine or both. In practice, we anticipate that this new offence will be mainly used by the police who, in the course of their work, may encounter illegal migrants driving on UK roads. Vehicles driven by illegal migrants may be detained, pending a decision by the court on forfeiture. The police already hold similar powers in respect of vehicles that are uninsured or driven by an unlicensed driver. The police have also been given new powers to seize driving licences when investigating illegal migration.

Immigration skills charge

The Bill makes provision for Regulations to be published, to allow the Secretary of State to impose a charge on Sponsors of Tier 2 migrants. This immigration skills charge is one of the areas being considered in the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) consultation on the review of Tier 2. The MAC’s remit is to advise the government on whether or not it should be introduced and the amount of the charge. Until the MAC has concluded the consultation and advised the government, we will not know the extent of any skills charge, but it seems clear that this will be introduced in some form.