Government cracks down on illegal working

An almost 10% rise in government visits to identify illegal working should remind employers to tighten recruitment processes and understand risks in this area say legal experts.

Since 11 December 2022 1,152 immigration enforcement visits have taken place across the UK. This is an almost 10% rise on the previous five-week period.

These visits have resulted in 362 arrests and 92 illegal working civil penalties, costing businesses £1.5 million.

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An increase in enforcement actions follows the announcement of government plans to hire 200 new immigration enforcement staff, which immigration minister Robert Jenrick said is to ensure only those who are eligible can work in the UK.

He said: “Illegal working causes untold harm to our communities, cheating honest workers of employment, putting vulnerable people at risk and defrauding the public purse.”

With the government focusing on this area Joel Reiss, solicitor at immigration law specialist Latitude Law, said employers need to ensure they are carrying out right to work checks in order to get a statutory excuse, and are protected from penalties, if an employee is found to be working illegally.

He told HR magazine: “You do need policies and procedures in place to make sure checks [on status of those being hired] are done and to protect yourself.”

These checks can take the form of using online checks to see if a candidate or new hire has an outstanding immigration application process, but they need to be repeated at the right moments as the process has multiple parts.

lAternatively, checks include making sure a person has settlement under the EU settlement scheme or checking on a passport.

Reiss explained that even if a worker is found to be working illegally the checks, when completed properly, ensure an employer won’t be penalised.

He added: “These checks act as statutory excuses, even if it turns out a passport was obtained fraudulently.”

Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK added that with such high stakes — risks include imprisonment, unlimited fines, or costs of up to £20,000 per illegal worker if improper checks were carried out — it is crucial HR has good hiring processes and record keeping.

Speaking to HR magazine: “Having a robust HR system and a uniform policy on right to work checks is important.

“Key dates need to be well recorded and, in the case of those under immigration control, flagged at least three months in advance.

“Good record keeping and reporting procedures especially for those who are sponsoring overseas workers are also key.”