What’s happening with illegal migrant workers?

On the 7th of August 2023, the Minister for Immigration, Robert Jenrick, revealed a crackdown on illegal migrant workers that will see fines triple for employers.

Employers face a fine of £45,000 per illegal worker (up from £15,000) for a first breach and £60,000 for a repeat (up from £20,000). Under current legislation, a director could face 5 years in prison and an unlimited fine if they are found to have had “reasonable cause” to believe an employee did not have the right to work.

The Telegraph has reported from a Government source that, amongst other sectors, hospitality and construction and associated industries such as cleaning, car washes, nail bars, takeaways, catering and beauty salons would be targeted.

Forged documents are on the increase making it tricky for employers – unless they are trained – to identify them. And where rapid hiring is needed, such as in industries with high demand for workers, checks can often be overlooked or done inaccurately.

Enforcement for employing illegal workers increased by 50% last year.

Errors and reporting

As an employer, it’s important to understand why people may not have or may cease to have rights to work in the UK. Reasons can include:

  • Expired leave
  • Prevention from working in certain sectors
  • Presentation of false paperwork
  • Lack of permission to enter the UK

There is good news for companies that make genuine errors, though. The Civil Penalty scheme for illegal working gives a statutory defence against a civil penalty where there has been a compliant right-to-work check. Additionally, moving towards online right-to-work checks should help prevent the issue of prospective employees presenting forged documents.

If an employer reports a suspected person working illegally, they may get a reduction of £5,000 in any civil penalty. And, if the business can show they have effective right-to-work checking practices in place, along with other mitigating factors, then the Home Office may issue a warning notice rather than a financial penalty.

Compliance when hiring

Before employment commences, an appropriate right-to-work check must be carried out, which fundamentally involves one of the following:

  • A manual right-to-work check for everyone (the rule is to obtain, check and copy ID documents).
  • A right-to-work check using digital identity document validation technology via the services of an identity service provider (British and Irish citizens only).
  • A Home Office online right-to-work check (non-British and non-Irish citizens).

Overall, a consistent approach to right-to-work checks is essential for all employees, not just those who appear to be non-British in origin or descent. This was evidenced in a recent employment tribunal in which a jobseeker was the subject of racial discrimination after the recruiter refused to accept her birth certificate as proof of her right to work, despite it showing she was a British national. Azma Khan was awarded £18,405.80.

Get support and documentation

Not sure what to do? We’re happy to help, and our Conditional Offer of Appointment letter highlights a robust and legally compliant way to offer a role (subject also to matters like references, accurate work history, qualifications, liability from previous employers, and so on). It also includes all the legally compliant options for provision of documents to prove and check right-to-work in the UK. Get in touch for more information.