On 4 February the European Parliament debated a directive proposing tough new punishments for employers of illegal immigrants.
They could be fined, forced to pay wages in arrears or banned from bidding for public sector contracts or receiving state or European aid for up to five years. In the most serious cases criminal sanctions could be imposed.
Third parties such as voluntary bodies or trade unions will be allowed to report employers without the risk of being prosecuted for helping someone stay in the country illegally. If the guilty employer is a subcontractor, the contracting firm could also be liable if it knew they were acting illegally.
The UK is not obliged to sign up to the directive when it comes into force. The government's position to date has been that, while it supports the general purpose of the directive, it does not believe the EU has the authority to impose the criminal sanctions it envisages and will therefore not opt in.
If it is approved member states will have two years to implement the directive.