On the 17 September 2015, the Government published the Immigration Bill 2015 which introduces further measures to create a ‘hostile environment’ for unwanted migration in the UK.

The Bill will introduce:

  • New sanctions on illegal workers and rogue employers
  • Better co-ordination of regulators that enforce workers’ rights
  • Measures to prevent those unlawfully in the UK from accessing housing, driving licences and bank accounts
  • New measures to make it easier to enforce immigration laws and remove illegal migrants.

Below is a summary of the main proposals and how they may affect both your business and your migrant workers, if the Bill is passed and made law.

New sanctions on illegal workers and rogue employers

The Bill will make it harder for people to live and work illegally in the UK and impose tougher penalties and sanctions on rogue employers who exploit illegal migrants for their own gains.

At first reading, the words used in the Bill seem clearly aimed at those who knowingly work illegally or employ illegal workers. However, as those responsible for prevention of illegal working checks will be aware, even a slight oversight or misinterpretation of the immigration rules and guidance can leave employers exposed to a potential civil penalty.

The Bill will make it an offence for an employer to employ someone whom they “know or have reasonable cause to believe” is an illegal worker. The maximum custodial sentence on indictment for an offence of employing an illegal worker will be increased from two years to five years. These powers will operate alongside and reinforce the existing system of heavy financial penalties for businesses that employ/find that they have employed an illegal worker. The current maximum civil penalty is £20,000 per illegal worker.

In addition, the Bill will make illegal working a criminal offence in its own right, with a maximum custodial sentence of six months and/or a fine of the statutory maximum (unlimited in England and Wales). This will allow wages paid to all illegal workers to be recoverable under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Prevent those unlawfully in the UK from accessing housing, driving licences and bank accounts

The Right to Rent scheme introduced under the Immigration Act 2014 requires landlords to check immigration status documents and not to rent their properties to people who are disqualified from renting by their immigration status. The first phase of the scheme was introduced in parts of the West Midlands. From 1 February 2016, the scheme will be rolled out nationally. Landlords who fail to check a potential tenant’s ‘right to rent’ face penalties of up to £3,000 per tenant.

The Bill will enable landlords to evict people whose immigration status means that they have ‘no right to rent’. It will also create a new criminal offence, with a maximum five year prison sentence, for landlords who know or have reasonable grounds to believe that their property is occupied by a person who does not have the ‘right to rent’.

Banks and building societies will be required periodically to check the immigration status of current account holders and to notify the Home Office if a person does not have the correct legal status. They will be required to facilitate the closure of bank accounts held by those without legal status.

In addition, the Bill will create a new offence of driving while not lawfully resident in the UK.

Immigration skills charge

The Bill will create a power for the Secretary of State to require employers to pay an immigration skills charge for each skilled worker that they sponsor from outside the EEA.

The Immigration Bill passed its second reading on 13 October 2015. Information about the Bill as it passes through parliament can be accessed at this link.