On 12 July 2016 new legislation on employing illegal workers came into force. According to the Immigration Act 2016, if a worker is found to be in the UK illegally, the government no longer has to prove that the employer knew about it. If this were to happen in your business, you could be prosecuted if you had ‘reasonable cause to believe that the employee is disqualified from employment’ because of being in the country illegally.
New Powers and Penalties
The Act also gives Immigration Officers the power to search your premises, and seize any incriminating evidence of this kind of wrong doing. It doesn’t matter whether the work is being performed under a written contract or just an oral one; the offence of employing an illegal immigrant is the same.
Penalties are more severe as well. Fines are heavy and you could go to prison for up to five years. Previously the maximum custodial sentence was two years. The workers themselves can now be prosecuted as well, and face imprisonment for up to six months.
Enforcing Worker Standards
The Act is also concerned about the conditions of legally employed workers. A new post of Director of Labour Market Enforcement has been created, whose role is to oversee the enforcement of the national minimum wage and other minimum standards for workers.
With all these new rules upon us, all employers need to be even more vigilant with their recruiting practices. If you are not 100% certain of their legal status, it’s not worth taking them on.
What Else Is to Come?
Other aspects of the Act have yet to come into force, and have no projected date as yet, but are worth noting and looking out for.
- A power to close down premises for a maximum of 48 hours if illegal immigrants are found working there
- A new rule that public sector workers who deal directly with the public must be fluent in English. In Wales the rule also includes the Welsh language
- An immigration skills charge which will be imposed on employers who sponsor Tier 2 skilled migrant workers ie if you want to offer a job to someone from overseas with skills you cannot find otherwise.
You might want to ask your local bookkeepers to watch out for the enforcement dates of those regulations to come. They will be delighted to help keep you up to date.