Job applicants may soon be subjected to more thorough vetting under government proposals designed to stop the growing illegal workforce.
The Government has finally admitted that illegal working is 'widespread' and estimates, in a Home Office document, that the number of illegal staff runs into several hundreds of thousands.
A consultation document by the Home Office on preventing illegal workers says that many employers are now presented with fraudulent documents, making it difficult to check whether job candidates are entitled to work legally.
In the consultation document, immigration and asylum minister Beverly Hughes proposes new checks for prospective employers, including asking non-EU applicants for two separate identity documents.
Andrew Osborne, head of the immigration team at law firm Hammonds, said forged documents are now more prevalent. "It is very simple to get hold of a forged passport," he said.
Osborne said the situation is very difficult for employers, especially as the Home Office has only just acknowledged that there is a problem. "Some employers have had to develop a working knowledge of the immigration system."
Martin Hinchliffe, HR director at Welcome Break, said his company thoroughly checks references and documents. "But despite this, you can still have a problem," he said. "It's a big administrative drain."
To protect the company, Welcome Break audits staff annually, and regularly checks staff work eligibility.
Hinchliffe said one of the best ways to discourage illegal employees was to make it clear in the application pack that the right documentation is required. Yet, this does not put all of them off.
"The Home Office will do random checks," he said. "And sometimes a resignation comes out of the blue, and you can only conclude that they weren't meant to be here."
Clare Hinkley, policy adviser at the Confederation of British Industry, believes more research into the issue is needed, and warns that blanket enforcement policies may not work as different industries have different problems.
"Legislation should be targeted at a problem - not just because you hope it works. If current legislation is not working, then this will not help."
Employers can comment on the consultation paper until 13 October.
By Quentin Reade