Immigration is a topic that is never far away from headline news. Now owners of small or medium sized businesses may not think that immigration law affects them but, the law says differently. It was back in 2004 that the Home Office set up no fewer than 1,600 operations to tackle illegal working. They actually uncovered thousands of illegal workers and, as a result, a number of businesses found themselves facing criminal liability for employing them.
The Asylum & Immigration Act 1986 introduced criminal liability for employers who employ persons whose immigration status prevents them from working in the UK.
Commenting Gerald Irwin of Sutton Coldfield based Licensed Insolvency Practitioners and Business Advisers, Irwin Insolvency, “Even though this legislation has been around for many years, many employers still do not have the requisite procedures in place to verify a new or prospective employees’ immigration status. Currently, failure to comply with these obligations may render a manager personally liable to a large fine for every illegal worker they ‘knowingly’ employ as well as exposing their business to damaging publicity”.
Under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill, on the spot civil penalty fines of £2,000 per illegal worker are imposed on businesses. Firms or individuals who ‘knowingly’ employ an illegal worker also face a jail term of up to two years and unlimited fines. “These fines will be imposed on employers who are found to be employing illegal workers and who have not asked to see appropriate documentation, copied them or taken steps to check they are authentic. Employers must ensure that their migrant workers are entitled to be in the UK” added Mr. Irwin.
Criminal liability is not confined to the corporate sector but also extends to any director, manager or similar officer where the offence of employing an illegal worker has been committed with their consent, connivance or neglect. This means, in practice, that anyone with responsibility for human resources may well be prosecuted. There is currently a statutory defence against prosecution, however a business must be able to show that they have checked and copied original documentation which demonstrates that a new or prospective employee has permission to work in the UK.
Said, Mr. Irwin, “It is important for businesses to remember they can ask for this information at any stage of the recruitment process but information must be checked before the individual starts work if a business ultimately needs to rely on the statutory defence”.