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
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
Employers can comment on the consultation paper until 13 October.
By Quentin Reade
What HR needs to know
– Employers face fines of up to
£5,000 for every illegal worker employed if proper checks have not been carried
– To avoid prosecution, make sure you see at least one original
document from the list at http://ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/default.asp?PageId=85,
and keep a record of it
– To avoid discrimination, don’t assume that a foreign national
or someone from an ethnic minority has no right to work in the UK. All applicants
should be treated in the same way
How easily can illegal immigrants beat the system?
Personnel Today talked to two illegal
workers to find out how easy it is to beat the system
Jen, 22, from Canada
Jen is just one of thousands of illegal immigrants working in
the service industry. A waitress in a West London restaurant, she has already
been forced to leave the country after her working holiday visa expired, but
earlier this year she returned, flying into Ireland and taking a ferry and
overnight bus into the UK. She said this is the best way to dodge immigration
On her return she started working again at the same restaurant,
using her old National Insurance number. Her boss knows she is working
illegally, but doesn’t care.
"The service industry relies on foreigners, and half of
them don’t have visas," Jen said.
"I don’t think I am ripping anyone off, there is work to
be had, there are plenty of jobs. Someone needs me to work, so I am working,
[and] paying tax."
Jen said her story is no different to other immigrants she
knows. Her initial two-year holiday visa allowed her to work one-year full time
or two years part time, but during that period only one of her employers (out
of a major coffee franchise, a large music retailer, and a catering firm)
checked her status just before her visa expired.
Returning from a holiday abroad, immigration officials didn’t
believe she was coming to the UK on holiday, and gave her a week to go home to
Canada. But, after a year, she came back, through Ireland. "My boss said
‘If you come back, we will give you a job anytime’. I am a bit worried. When I
leave [I could get caught and] be deported."
Mark, 25, from Australia
After two years working in the UK, Mark’s working holiday visa
expired. But he wanted to stay, and did. When he first came to the UK he worked
in pubs (as many young Australians do), and then started working for a large
"I owed money to the bank, and was enjoying living here,
so decided to stay," he said.
He knows that if he leaves the country, there is a high chance
of getting caught at immigration on his return, so has not gone abroad in the
two years since his visa ran out.
"My old boss knew my visa had run out, but didn’t care.
But head office decided to do an audit and HR was putting heat on my new boss
to see evidence that I was allowed to work."
Mark didn’t know what to do. An acquaintance told him he could
get him a stolen passport, but it would cost £600, and the details still needed
to be changed. Mark didn’t want anything to do with this and tried to think of
other ways to beat the system. He settled on scanning a friend’s work visa into
a computer, changing the details, photocopying it and presenting it to his
boss. His boss faxed it off to head office, and Mark hasn’t heard anything
"A couple of [colleagues] were like, ‘Hey, where the Jesus
did that come from? Did you get a real one?’. I just say it’s magic."
Mark plans to stay another year, and says he doesn’t feel
guilty about what he has done. "I pay my taxes, pay my way. It’s not like
I am sending money home, out of the country, to Bangladesh or anything."