Increased sanctions for employers who employ illegal workers are coming into force on 12 July 2016, regardless of the EU referendum result.


The government wants to make the UK an unattractive place to work for those who don't have the right to do so. The new sanctions are intended to be a deterrent to illegal migrants and tackle concerns around illegal immigration.

The provisions of the Immigration Act 2016 are due to be implemented in stages in the coming months and there is no reason to suspect that the vote for Brexit in the EU referendum will impact upon this in the short term, although it is likely to have longer term implications for the whole area of immigration into the UK.

The Act will introduce new sanctions on illegal working, prevent illegal migrants accessing housing, driving licences and bank accounts, and introduce new measures to enforce our existing immigration laws.

Provisions of the Act coming into force on 12 July include:

  • an increase in the criminal penalties for employers who employ illegal workers; and
  • illegal working itself becoming a criminal offence

Employing illegal workers

It is currently an offence to knowingly employ an illegal worker, and doing so risks a maximum fine of £20,000 and up to two years in prison. However proving that an employer knows that a worker is working illegally can be difficult.

From 12 July, this offence will be extended to include circumstances where an employer has reasonable cause to believe that an employee is disqualified from working because of his or her immigration status. The maximum sentence will increase to five years imprisonment.

Illegal working to become a criminal offence

Individuals working illegally in the UK presently risk being deported and having a black mark placed on their immigration record. From 12 July, working illegally will become a criminal offence in its own right. Those convicted will face up to six months in prison and/or a potentially unlimited fine. In addition, the government will be able to seize the individual's wages as proceeds of crime.

Are there any other provisions of the Act that employers should be aware of?

The remaining employment aspects of the Act are not in force and do not yet have commencement dates. These include the introduction of an immigration skills charge for sponsoring skilled workers from outside of the European Economic Area, which is expected to come into force in April 2017.

In addition, public authorities will soon be under a duty to ensure that workers in customer-facing roles speak fluent English. The government has issued a draft code of practice about how this is expected to be implemented, and the final code is awaited prior to the enactment of this provision.

What should employers do next?

Employers should confirm that they have checked that all their current employees have the right to work in the UK, and that they can prove that those checks have taken place. A paper trail will be essential.

Prospective employees' documents must be checked to verify that they have the right to work in the UK prior to the commencement of employment. A robust system of document checking, which is in accordance with the government's guidelines on preventing illegal working, will help ensure that any penalties are avoided. Relevant internal processes should be reviewed and if necessary amended to ensure these provide the maximum protection for the employer. Staff engaged in recruitment should be made aware of and trained on these changes.