Avoid the pitfalls of hiring illegal workers

Earlier this year, the former Immigration Minister Mark Harper resigned from the government after it emerged the cleaner he employed did not have the legal right to work in the UK. Only months before the story surfaced, Harper had taken the Immigration Bill through Parliament and emphasised the importance of checking applicants’ personal information. Harper admitted that he had not adhered to the protocol when hiring Isabella Acevedo, who originated from Columbia.

His mistake serves as a warning to individuals and SMEs looking to employ non-UK workers. If the proper checks are not carried out, employers could unwittingly hire illegal immigrants – an illegal practice – and find themselves in serious legal trouble. Below are some key facts for employers to be aware of when hiring new staff.

What is an illegal worker?

An illegal worker is defined as someone aged 16 or over who is subject to immigration control, and is not allowed to work in the UK. This is because their leave – granted before they emigrate from their home country – is no longer valid, or because a legally binding restriction forbids them from working. They include students whose visas have expired and people who work on a visitor’s visa.

What are the pitfalls of hiring illegal workers? Are they serious?

Hiring illegal immigrants could have significant consequences for firms of all sizes. For each illegal worker employed, a company can be fined up to £20,000. In some cases, employers can be sent to prison for up to two years and be forced to pay unlimited fines. If a key member of a small business is imprisoned, or if a small business has to pay out thousands of pounds to cover legal fines, the sudden loss in funds and senior staff could be detrimental beyond return.

What should an employer do to check their potential employees’ eligibility?

There are three steps outlined by the Government that all employers should carry out when looking into hiring job applicants. More advice on the below can be found here.

– Stage One: Obtain documents

The employer must obtain original documents that fall under the acceptable documents listed by the Government – these include passports, birth certificates and other official registration documents.

– Stage Two: Check the documents

The employer must check the documents they are presented with are genuine and that they belong to the prospective employee. They also need to ensure that the person is the rightful owner of the documents and that they are allowed to work in the job role they are applying for. The employer must:

1) Cross check names, photographs and dates of birth for consistency across documents

2) Check all of the expiry dates for permission to be in the UK are still valid, and that the documents are genuine and have not been tampered with

3) Check for any work restrictions to determine if they are allowed to do the type of work that is being offered (there are further checks for students, which the employer will need to check online)

– Step Three: Make copies

The employer must make a clear copy of every document in a format which cannot later be changed or tampered with. The copies must be stored securely, either electronically or in a hard copy, for up to two years after the employee ends their employment. The employer must date and keep copies of:

1) Various pages of passports – these include, but are not limited to, any page with the document expiry date, details of the holder’s date of birth, nationality, signature, biometric details, photograph and date at which their leave expires

2) Any other documents in full, such as a Residence Permit

The importance of hiring responsibly and legally cannot be overstated. The positives that illegal workers may bring to a business may be all too tempting to capitalise on, but the consequence of doing so could be detrimental to the entire company and should be avoided at all costs.

Image: UK visa via Shutterstock


Hugh Hitchcock

Hugh Hitchcock is a director at DJM Solicitors, a commercial law firm providing legal services to clients across the UK and Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Japan. His career spans 23 years spent in media and corporate law, and he specialises in dispute resolution. He previously spent six years at a leading media firm that acted for Elton John and The Beatles' record label Apple.

About Hugh Hitchcock

Hugh Hitchcock is a director at DJM Solicitors, a commercial law firm providing legal services to clients across the UK and Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Japan. His career spans 23 years spent in media and corporate law, and he specialises in dispute resolution. He previously spent six years at a leading media firm that acted for Elton John and The Beatles' record label Apple.

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  • Daniel Lawson

    Glad you agree with this proposed new legislation Charlie. I know you don’t usually see eye to eye with MPs and their policies! It is obvious that it’s red tape stopping SMEs from growing and this is a start to reducing it.