On 12 May the Immigration Bill received Royal Assent and will now be implemented as the Immigration Act 2016. The Act seeks to address issues around illegal migrants living in the UK.
Under the Immigration Act 2016 (which will be enacted over the next few months through regulations) new measures will be introduced which will impact on employers and workers, including:
- Employers who employ illegal workers will face tougher sentencing and fines – this will apply to employers who know, or have reasonable cause to believe, that workers are working illegally. The maximum fine for employers will remain at £20,000 per illegal worker, with the maximum custodial sentence to be increased from 2 to 5 years. This is significant, as both employers who have “reasonable cause to believe” they are employing illegal workers, as well as those who have actual knowledge, could face custodial sentences.
- Immigration officers will also be given the power to close an employer’s premises for up to 48 hours where illegal working is suspected and the employer cannot provide evidence of right to work checks. This will apply for employers who have received a civil penalty in the last 3 years for employing an illegal worker, those who have failed to pay a previous civil penalty and those who have an unspent conviction for employing illegal workers.
- A new offence of illegal working for workers will be created. Workers who either lack leave to enter or remain in the UK or are in breach of restricted working conditions will face a potential custodial sentence of up to 6 months and/or a fine. Their earnings may also be seized as the proceeds of crime.
- All public sector employees in customer-facing roles will need to speak sufficiently fluent English to do their job effectively. You can read more about this in our previous article here.
- The power to introduce a new “skills levy” on businesses sponsoring workers from outside the EEA. This is expected to be introduced in April 2017 and the Government has separately announced that the charge will be £1,000 per worker per year. There will be a lower charge (£364) for small and charitable sponsors. Migrants in PhD level occupations, those on Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfer) Graduate Trainee visas and those transferring from Tier 4 (General) visas to Tier 2 will be exempt from the charge.
In light of the impending changes it is critical that businesses have a clear system in place for checking right to work and keeping a record of these checks to ensure that they maintain a statutory excuse against a penalty. Employers that sponsor workers on Tier 2 visas will also need to bear in mind the increased cost of employing them from spring next year, when it is expected that the skills charge will be introduced.