Prosecutions for hiring illegal immigrants fell in first year after rules changed

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The number of people prosecuted for employing illegal immigrants fell by 75 per cent in the year after the law was changed to lower the threshold for the offence, new figures have revealed.

Data from the Home Office, released in a freedom of information (FOI) request submitted by People Management, revealed that between 12 July 2016 and 11 July 2017 just three individuals were prosecuted under section 21 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. By contrast, 12 individuals were prosecuted under the same offence between 12 July 2015 and 11 July 2016.

Section 21 of the 2006 Act created an offence of employing somebody “knowing [they were] disqualified from employment by reason of [their] immigration status”. However, on 12 July 2016, the offence was altered to require the employer to only have a “reasonable cause to believe that the employee is disqualified from employment by reason of… immigration status”. The amended wording lowers the level of knowledge that must be proved.

Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK, told People Management that the change may have prompted employers to become “more savvy” with their record-keeping and pre-employment checks.

“The thinking would naturally be that employers have been made aware of this by legal representatives,” he said. “There was a lot of press about this at the time.”

Natasha Chell, partner at Laura Devine Solicitors, added: “I think employers have become more alert to illegal working and the impacts of that as well. It’s very much now an issue that’s right at the top of the agenda of HR teams.”

However, Chell stressed that, even though the drop was proportionately dramatic, the offence caught a “very, very low” number of people in the year before the law was altered.

Beech also speculated that the fall in prosecutions may have been caused by “soft touch targets” being all but exhausted, as well as the Home Office potentially switching its focus from “enforcement into case working teams to deal with the huge [influx] of EEA permanent residency and naturalisation applications in light of Brexit”.

The FOI also revealed that, between 12 July 2016 and 11 July 2017, 2,453 civil penalties with a total value of £39.5m were issued relating to section 15 of the 2006 Act. This represents a drop of 16 per cent by volume from 2,921 penalties the year before and of 19 per cent by value from £48.8m. Essentially, section 15 allows a penalty to be issued if someone employs a person who does not have the right to enter or stay in the UK.

However, the FOI noted that the civil penalties may still be subject to objection or appeal, so could still change, and the same employer may have received more than one penalty in each time period.

Immigration has become a hot button issue in recent weeks, particularly after it came to light that members of the Windrush generation – who travelled from the Caribbean as children on their parents’ passports between 1948 and 1971 – had wrongly been turned away from jobs or told they would be deported.

Meanwhile, ‘thousands’ of employers have potentially been left short-staffed after the limit for sponsorship certificates for Tier 2 visas – commonly used to employ non-EEA workers – was breached for several months in a row.

People Management contacted the Home Office for further comment but had not received a response at the time of writing.

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