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Tougher Rules on Illegal Working Now In Force

The Immigration Act 2016 contains a wide range of measures, including new rules intended to crack down on businesses that employ those who do not have permission to work in the UK and to prevent employers from exploiting vulnerable migrants. There is no reason to believe that the EU referendum result will have any impact on their operation in the short term.

The following measures came into force on 12 July 2016:

  • the scope of the existing criminal offence of knowingly employing an illegal worker is extended to include cases where the employer is considered to have 'reasonable cause to believe that the employee is disqualified from employment' because of their immigration status;
  • the penalty for knowingly employing an illegal worker is increased from a maximum custodial sentence of two years to one of five years; and
  • immigration officers have been granted enhanced search and seizure powers to collect evidence of immigration and employing illegal worker offences.

In addition, with effect from 12 July illegal working became a criminal offence in its own right, punishable by a maximum custodial sentence of six months and/or an unlimited fine. This measure will enable wages paid to illegal workers to be recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

To crack down on exploitation in the labour market, which often appears to involve vulnerable migrant workers, a new role – Director of Labour Market Enforcement – has been created to oversee the relevant enforcement agencies and provide a coherent enforcement strategy to deal with non-compliance.

From 1 December 2016, provisions in the Act introduced a power to close, for up to 48 hours, the premises of employers who continue to flout the law by employing illegal workers came into force. Following an initial closure notice, the Home Office also has the power to seek continued closure notice from the courts and to impose special compliance requirements on offending employers.

Also from 1 December 2016, applications for private hire and taxi licences are subject to immigration checks to prevent them being issued to anyone who does not have the right to work in the UK.

Employers should ensure that rigorous right-to-work checks are carried out and managers are trained to identify circumstances that could constitute a 'reasonable cause to believe' that someone is an illegal worker.

Advice for employers on the checks on an individual's right to work in the UK that should be carried out can be found on the GOV.UK website.

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The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.