Home Office ramps up
immigration enforcement
action to tackle illegal

In December 2022, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a statement in Parliament setting out his five-point plan to crack down on illegal migration to the UK.

Describing how the government would recruit more staff and free up resources to allow immigration officers to go back to enforcement, Sunak pledged to increase raids on illegal working by 50%.

In the month since the Prime Minister’s pledge, the Home Office has significantly ramped up its immigration enforcement activity and has made numerous arrests. Since 11 December 2022, a total of 1,152 immigration enforcement visits have taken place across the UK with the aim of identifying illegal working. This is almost a 10% increase on visits completed in the previous 5 weeks.

During this period, immigration enforcement action taken by the Home Office has included:

  • 362 arrests and 92 illegal working civil penalties issued with a value of £1.5 million.
  • 1,930 police enquiries referred to Immigration Enforcement teams of foreign nationals they arrest for further investigation.
  • A further 58 arrests for immigration offences, with 28 convictions secured since 13 December.
  • 151 foreign criminals and immigration offenders being removed on returns charter flights.

Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick said: “Illegal working causes untold harm to our communities, cheating honest workers of employment, putting vulnerable people at risk, and defrauding the public purse.

Our Immigration Enforcement teams are working round the clock to bring those violating our laws to justice. It’s our priority to crack down on this crime and empower law enforcement to remove illegal migrants.

With support from our new enforcement taskforce, we will go further and faster to prevent the abuse of our laws and borders and crack down on individuals exploiting the generosity of the UK taxpayer.”

In line with its renewed focus on tackling illegal working, Smith Stone Walters expects the Home Office to increase the number of in-person compliance visits it carries out on sponsors of overseas workers this year. Below, we set out how the government will work to prevent illegal working going forward, and how employers can ensure they are compliant with their legal obligations.

How the government plans to tackle illegal working

The increase in immigration enforcement activity follows the establishment of the UK’s first cross-government ministerial taskforce on immigration enforcement.

The taskforce will work to ensure every available power across the government is utilised to support law enforcement activity to identify and reduce illegal migrants in the UK, and to ensure only those eligible can work, receive benefits or access public services.

Part of its remit will be to examine how to protect access to rented accommodation, bank accounts, healthcare, education, driving licences and public funds to only those here legally.

The first meeting of the new taskforce, chaired by the Immigration Minister, will focus on illegal working and how enforcement activity can be maximised, including in the rapidly growing gig economy.

As part of the crackdown on illegal working, the Prime Minister has also pledged to hire 200 new Immigration Enforcement staff and restart data sharing with banks to ensure those in the UK illegally do not have access to bank accounts.

Advice for employers

All UK employers have a legal obligation to prevent illegal working, and the penalties for employing illegal workers are severe. Employers can be sent to prison for five years and pay an unlimited fine if found guilty of employing someone they knew or had ‘reasonable cause to believe’ did not have the right to work in the UK.

You can also be penalised if you employ someone who does not have the right to work and you did not do the correct checks, or you did not do them properly.

To prevent action being taken against you, it is essential to carry out a compliant right to work check on every person you intend to hire. Checks must be carried out in accordance with the guidance for employers, and should take place before the employee commences work.

Prepare for a compliance visit

As well as right to work checks, employers that hold a licence to sponsor overseas workers are subject to more rigorous compliance checks.

Sponsors must uphold certain responsibilities such as maintaining accurate records on their sponsored workers and reporting any significant changes to the Home Office within set timeframes. These responsibilities are known as ‘sponsor duties’.

To ensure sponsors are complying with their sponsor duties, the Home Office conducts regular checks and may visit your business premises at any time, announced or unannounced.

Smith Stone Walters recommends carrying out regular mock audits to ensure your business is ready for a visit from Home Office compliance officers.

Support with immigration compliance

Employers should be prepared for the Home Office to increase its activities around immigration enforcement and compliance in 2023 and beyond.

Smith Stone Walters can work with you to conduct an internal audit of your current systems and processes to ensure you are compliant with immigration law. To discuss your requirements with a qualified immigration advisor, please contact us today.

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