A number of companies have been hit with fines totalling more than £500,000 for employing illegal immigrants from India, Pakistan and other non-European Union countries.
The fines were imposed after tougher rules came into effect from February and the number of UK Border Agency enforcement operations rose by 40%.
Employers face a fine of up to £10,000 for each illegal immigrant and the worker will face a 10 year ban from the UK if removed.
Over 130 companies, many of them Indian restaurants struggling to employ chefs, have been caught and fined for employing staff illegally, according to official figures.
The figure is more 10 times higher than the total for the whole of 2007, and double the number of companies prosecuted in the last decade, the figures say.
In an enforcement operation covered by the BBC, 60 UK Border Agency officers raided a chicken processing factory in Derbyshire, following police intelligence suggesting that illegal immigrants were working there.
The team discovered a large processing room with 56 workers, all from overseas, and after several hours of questioning determined that 22 of the workers were illegal immigrants from countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne told the BBC: “There are dodgy employers out there who are trying to undercut their competitors and drive down British wages by employing people illegally, so we’ve come up with this new way of taking much faster on-the-spot action”.
These raids are not confined to the more obvious targets such as restaurants and factories. Care Homes have also been visited by officers and carers have been detained.
Enforcement officers are also picking up people in the streets, on buses and outside tube and railway stations. The Government are also planning ID cards for foreigners.
The Home Office estimates that there are around 500,000 “illegal immigrants”, a combination of visa overstayers and refused asylum seekers, and admits it does not have the resources to deport them (current deportations run at 25,000 a year). It has been estimated that the cost of finding and deporting half-a-million people would run into billions of pounds and take up to twenty years to complete.
Last May 2007 several organisations including ‘Strangers into Citizens’ called for an amnesty and six MP’s laid an early-day motion (EDM) in Parliament, calling for a one-off regularisation of hundreds of thousands of ‘illegal’ immigrants in the UK.
Strangers into Citizens, called for a pathway into citizenship – via a two-year work permit – for migrants who have been in the UK for more than four years.
The Institute for Public Policy Research ippr estimates that regularisation of certain groups of migrant workers could raise £1bn in taxes.
But critics argue that such schemes only encourage further illegal immigration and the Government are unlikely to risk being seen a soft on immigration this side of a general election.