On 4 February 2009 the European Parliament debated a Directive proposing tough new measures against employers of illegal immigrants. Guilty employers could be fined, forced to pay wages in arrears or banned from bidding for public sector contracts or receiving State aid for up to five years (whether national or European). In the most serious cases criminal sanctions could also be imposed.  

Third parties such as voluntary bodies or trade unions will be allowed to report employers without the risk of being prosecuted for assisting someone to stay in the country illegally. If the guilty employer is a sub-contractor, the contracting firm could also be held liable if it knew the sub-contractor was acting illegally.  

The good news for UK employers is that the UK is not obliged to sign up to the Directive when it comes into force. The Government’s position to date has been that whilst it supports the general purpose of the Directive, it does not believe that the EU has the authority to impose the criminal sanctions envisaged by it and is therefore not opting in.  

If approved, Member States will have two years within which to implement the Directive.