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New figures obtained under Freedom of Information legislation reveal that 66 businesses across Northern Ireland were issued illegal working fines totalling £1.36 million in the past three years.
Civil penalties of between £10,000 and £20,000 were issued to businesses for employing 118 illegal workers and failing to check their immigration status and whether they were permitted to work in the UK. Under Home Office immigration rules businesses can be fined up to £20,000 for employing a single member of staff who is found to be in the UK without legal status and for failing to check their immigration status.
More immigration raids were carried out in the restaurant and takeaway trade in the last three years than in any other business sector in Northern Ireland. The official figures further show that 80% of businesses fined for illegal working in Northern Ireland during this period were in the restaurant, hotel and leisure sector.
There are no firm estimates of how many people are illegally working in the UK or Northern Ireland. In 2015 the UK government estimated there were between 190,000 and 240,000 businesses employing illegal workers in the UK – figures the Home Office described as “speculative”. The Home Office says that illegal working “undercuts honest employers, puts vulnerable migrants at risk of exploitation by people smugglers and rogue employers, cheats legitimate job seekers out of employment and defrauds the public purse.”
To tackle the issue, Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams visit businesses where they suspect individuals are working without permission or legal status to remain in the UK. Individuals found to be working illegally during an immigration raid may be removed from the jurisdiction. Official Home Office figures for Northern Ireland show that ICE teams carried out 137 immigration raids on businesses between 2016 and 2018. These illegal working raids led to the arrest of 162 people over the past three years but it is unclear how many of these individuals were removed from Northern Ireland.
There is growing evidence the Home Office are now looking to target the IT sector, healthcare, engineering and construction firms based in Northern Ireland. Every company operating in Northern Ireland are susceptible to a potential raid from the Home Office. Triggers for a raid may be the increased expansion of the business and recruitment of additional staff. We assist with a diverse range of companies to ensure right to work checks are being properly conducted and retained by the organisation. We also advise on prevention of illegal working legislation and ensuring company policies reflect the changing landscape of the immigration rules. With Brexit on the horizon and the “hostile immigration environment” imposed by Theresa May’s administration to reduce net migration figures the likeliness of an investigation by the ICE has never been higher.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Immigration is a complex area of law for both corporates and individuals. Please contact our Business Immigration / Employment Team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.