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Changes to law on employing illegal workers come into force 12 July

New rules on the offence of employing illegal workers and other changes under the Immigration Act 2016 take effect on 12 July 2016.

Employers will be guilty of an offence if they employ an illegal worker while having “reasonable cause to believe that the employee is disqualified from employment” because of their immigration status.

The change is intended to “make it easier to prove the offence”, according to a Government fact sheet on the Act.

Prior to 12 July, the Government had to show that an employer knew it was employing an illegal worker in order to prosecute for the offence.

The offence applies regardless of whether the worker is employed as an employee or as an apprentice, and whether the worker is employed through a written or an oral agreement.

Employers convicted under this offence may face a large financial penalty, and/or a maximum prison sentence of five years (up from two years).

The changes are part of the Government’s broader initiative to crack down on illegal working.

Other changes taking effect on 12 July include expanded powers of immigration officers to search premises, including workplaces, and to confiscate evidence of immigration and employing illegal worker offences.

A new offence of illegal working (for employees) will also take effect on 12 July.

This offence carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment. Individuals may also be subject to a fine.

Additionally, the Act creates a new Director of Labour Market Enforcement role to oversee authorities that enforce minimum standards for workers, such as enforcement of the national minimum wage.

Sections in the Act relevant to employers that do not yet have implementation dates – and that may require additional regulations before they come into force – include:

  • a visa levy (immigration skills charge) on employers who sponsor Tier 2 skilled migrant workers;
  • a requirement for customer-facing public-sector workers to speak fluent English (or Welsh if they are in Wales); and
  • a new power to close premises for up to 48 hours where a business employs illegal migrants.

“The UK’s vote to leave the EU on 23 June does not impact on the changes under the Act,” says Qian Mou, employment law editor at XpertHR.

“For example, the immigration skills charge will apply to tier 2 sponsored migrants only. Currently, most EEA and Swiss nationals do not require sponsorship in order to live and work in the UK.”