Effective today, July 12, 2016, employers found guilty of “knowingly” employing unauthorized foreign workers in the UK may face an increased prison term, and unauthorized foreign workers will be subject to criminal liability. This results from provisions of the Immigration Act 2016 which are aimed at further deterring workers who do not have the legal right to work in the UK from entering the nation. Provisions of the Immigration Act 2016, which take effect today, are slated to be implemented in stages over the coming months and while Brexit will certainly have implications for UK immigration law in the long-term, in the short-term our concern is with the provisions that begin to take effect today, which are as follows:
There will be an increase in the criminal penalties that may be applied to employers who employ illegal workers.
- It is already a crime to knowingly employ an illegal worker, the penalty for which has been a fine of up to £20,000 and a prison term of up to two years. While the level of the fine remains the same under the 2016 Act, the maximum sentence upon conviction has been increased to five years in prison from the current two. In addition, experience has shown that proving that an employer knew that an employee was working illegally can be difficult. Therefore, beginning today an employer will be guilty of this criminal offence if the employer has reasonable cause to believe that an employee was working illegally. It is no longer necessary to prove that the employer actually knew this; only that he should have known it in view of the circumstances.
Illegal working will become a criminal offence.
- Prior to today, the sanction applicable for employees guilty of working illegally is deportation, and a record of the illegality became part of the person’s immigration file. From today, working illegally will be a criminal offence subject to a sanction of up to six months in prison and/or a potentially unlimited fine. As working illegally is now a crime, any proceeds from working illegally also be subject to seizure as proceeds of crime. This provision has caused particular concern among certain human rights groups who have argued that it may lead to illegal workers feeling unable to speak out against exploitation for fear of themselves being criminally charged.
While UK employers should already be undertaking appropriate right-to-work checks, the stricter provisions that take effect today should serve as a reminder to make sure that current right-to-work checking processes are as robust as they can be.
The ever-changing landscape of UK immigration law has never been more fluid or uncertain than it will be over the coming months. We will keep you updated as matters develop.