Illegal workers – whose responsibility is it?

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Workers must have the right to work in the UKIllegal workers, refugees and migrants have become a closer focus of attention recently due to the situation in Syria and the migrants in Calais, all desperate to reach the UK.

Unless asylum was granted along with the right to remain, such people would not be eligible to work.

But crossing the channel from Calais is not the only way of entry; there are estimated to be over 500,000 illegal workers in the UK already. And some would claim that the number is more like 1.1 million.

In an effort to control illegal migration, the UK Government has implemented controls.

Every employer has a responsibility to ensure that those they employ are allowed to work here.

The Penalties

I was speaking with someone recently who told me of a company who had a great worker – their productivity was higher that of any other worker, they were never late and were rarely sick – indeed they were a model employee.

During a formal audit checking the status of workers in the firm, UK Border Force discovered that the model employee’s visa had expired. The firm was fined £20,000.

This is the norm. For each illegal worker caught, a company will be fined up to £20,000. This can destroy a small firm. And, for knowingly employing illegal workers, the directors could also be jailed for up to two years with uncapped fines.

So, what does a manager do?

The Checks

The simple answer is to put in place a process that will ensure workers’ documents are checked to ensure that they are, at all times, eligible to work in the UK. There’s a simple decision tree tool on the GOV.UK web site at that gives clear guidance as to who can and can’t work.

Don’t rely on photocopies – you must see the original documents. You must also check the documents while the document holder is present. And finally you must make copies of the relevant documents, noting the date that the check took place.


Whilst recruitment consultants may carry out their own checks, it’s ultimately the employer who carries the sole responsibility for confirming the right to work. Relying on other organisations for the checks will not be a valid defence if there is an issue.

Remember also that checks need to be kept up after initial appointment. This involves having a bring-forward system to ensure visas giving the right to work are re-checked as they approach expiry date. If a worker can’t renew their visa then their employment will need to be ended.

If you need any help in setting up your process and system, and understanding your obligations and the documents you can accept then give us a call.

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