News that almost 8,000 Romanian and Bulgarian workers have come to the UK legitimately in the past three months has coincided with tough new proposals to fine employers as much as £10,000 per worker for hiring overseas staff illegally.
The lure of employment in the UK and employers’ desire to find labour from across the EU continues to grow unabated, with an additional 49,000 EU workers from the other eight Eastern European nations applying to work in Britain.
The figures from the Home Office show that Poles make up the vast majority of applicants, and that many are filling long-term gaps across the public sector.
However, official figures have been questioned in the past because they do not take account of EU citizens coming to the UK as tourists or to take up self-employed status.
Both the EU and UK authorities have now warned of a crackdown on employers using illegal workers, and the onus is increasingly shifting to bosses to ensure staff are legally entitled to work.
The Home Office has unveiled new rules that would see employers found to be breaching the rules forced to pay the entire cost of deporting illegal workers.
Immigration minister Liam Byrne said rogue businessmen could face a jail sentence and unlimited fines for knowingly hiring illegal workers. “To combat illegal immigration it is not enough to stop illegal journeys. We have to close down the illegal jobs that tempt people to try their luck coming to Britain.
“That means making it easier for companies to check whether someone is here legally – but also coming down much harder on businesses that break the rules or turn a blind eye,” he said.
The Illegal Working Action Plan will come into force early next year and is part of a bigger government drive to tackle illegal immigration.
Although the plan includes a range of measures to make checking an applicant’s right to work simpler, it also promises tougher, intelligence-led enforcement against illegal working.
The EU is also planning to crack down on employers that use illegal migrant labour, which could implement even more stringent rules.
Ansar Ali, a solicitor at law firm DWF, said the EU is also pushing for a five-fold increase in the number of spot-checks on companies.
“As well as the risk of a fine or even a jail sentence, employers may be liable for any unpaid taxes and social security payments, as well as the cost of repatriating the worker. Firms could also be barred from tendering for public sector contracts.
“Employers would have to check that anyone they hired had a residence permit, and businesses would have to notify national authorities,” he said.