A new immigration scandal hit the Government last weekend, when Sunday newspapers revealed that thousands of security guards have been working illegally in Britain, including one allegedly guarding the Prime Minister’s car.
The Security Industry Authority (SIA), a body set up by the Home Office to vet doormen and security personnel, omitted to include a check on whether applicants were entitled to work in Britain, leaving an estimated 5,000 illegal immigrants employed on night club doors and in sensitive security posts, including six people who were working for the Metropolitan Police.
The main purpose of the SIA, which was set up three years ago, is to weed out security personnel with criminal records, but the lack of immigration status checks means that some could have records abroad.
The SIA has issued around 250,000 licences, for workers whose responsibilities include guarding Whitehall offices, ports and airports.
This week the Home Office said it had demanded a review of all the licences issued before the problem came to light in July.
Since July a new application procedure has been put in place and now involves checks with the Border and Immigration Agency.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The SIA took immediate action as soon as they became aware that some licence holders had been employed illegally.
“From July this year, all new applicants have been granted a licence only if they are entitled to seek work in Britain.
“Ministers ordered checks on all existing licence-holders and these will be completed shortly. Any individual found to be working illegally will have their licence removed and face removal from the UK.”
The SIA has admitted that it is “inevitable” that criminals and illegal workers will attempt to obtain licences, but emphasised that the legal obligation to ensure that an employee has the right to work in Britain is placed on the employer – even if that is also the Government.
The Home Office said it would consider prosecuting any employers who had taken on illegal immigrants, raising the prospect of an embarrassing prosecution against the Metropolitan Police, which is also overseen by the Home Office.
Last May Immigration Minister Liam Byrne announced a crackdown on employers employing illegal immigrants with fines of up to £10,000 per illegal worker.
The opposition Conservative Party said it was yet another example that the Home Office was “not fit for purpose”.
Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: “What is extraordinary about this latest Home Office fiasco is that we have been through this before.
“Last year, the Home Office discovered it was employing illegal immigrants as cleaners in the Immigration Department itself. From these new revelations it looks like no effective action was taken to check who has access to some of the most sensitive buildings in this country.”
In October, Marouane Bourannane, 35, an Algerian, who was employed by Group 4 Securicor, appeared in court admitting possession of a false passport.
Bourannane, of Beckenham, south-east London, had worked as a security officer at the Labour and Conservative party conferences and allegedly had a picture of himself with Gordon Brown on his mobile phone.
Two weeks ago, Peter Hain, the Work and Pensions Secretary, was forced to admit that 300,000 foreign citizens working in Britain had been left out of official statistics.
The story took a further twist later in the week when the Daily Mail obtained a leaked memo indicating that Jacqui Smith had tried to cover up the scandal in July.
Forced to make a Commons statement before MP’s on Tuesday, the Home Secretary rejected claims by Shadow Home Secretary David Davis that she was guilty of “blunder, panic and cover-up”.
Her statement came after internal Home Office emails revealed that the Home Secretary first knew about 5,000 illegal immigrants working in Whitehall back in July.
How did this happen and what are the wider implications?
Firstly, by outsourcing much of the work, traditionally carried out by fully employed Civil Servants, to agencies and quangos, the Government has allowed security standards to slip and, in some cases, the ‘fox into the henhouse’.
Secondly, as shown last year when illegal immigrants were employed inside the Home Office as cleaners, adequate immigration checks are not being carried out by many agencies.
Lastly, it is clear that there are labour shortages in lower skilled areas, otherwise the estimated half a million illegal immigrants would not be employed.
A number of industry sectors including Agriculture, Catering, and Health Care are in dire need of staff to do the jobs which, to use the words of Gwyneth Dunwoody, many “Britons do not want to do”.
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