Tesco, the UK’s largest private employer, is facing a £200,000 fine after foreign students at one of its warehouses were found to be working illegally, The Daily Telegraph reports.
As the UK Border Agency steps up its campaign to target employers who employ migrant workers illegally, even multi-national companies are not immune to prosecution for immigration offences.
Immigration authorities found the foreign students, of almost a dozen nationalities, were working significantly longer hours than their visas allowed at the warehouse operated by Britain’s biggest supermarket chain.
The breaches were discovered after immigration officials swooped on the Tesco.com building in Croydon, south London, last month.
UK Border Agency officials arrested 20 of the students for alleged breaches of visa terms that restricted the amount of hours they could work.
It is understood that at least seven of the students, none of whom has been identified, have been deported. It follows Home Office operations to put a stop to “visa abuse”.
Officials discovered the students, who were predominantly of Bangladeshi and Indian origin, had been working up to three-and-a-half times longer than their visas allowed.
The workers, believed to be university students aged over 18, all had the right to work in the UK.
The Daily Telegraph understands that a further 15 students remain under investigation. The Home Office would say only that inquiries were “ongoing”.
Tesco was subsequently issued with a “notification of potential liability”.
Authorities are now deciding whether to go further and issue the employer with a notification of liability, and a fine of up to £10,000 per illegal worker.
The Home Office said the company needed to provide “evidence that it was carrying out the legally required checks to avoid a fine”.
UKBA Officials approached Tesco executives shortly before the raids and asked them to keep giving the students illegal overtime “in order to catch them in the act”.
In “full cooperation” with Tesco officials, the UKBA raided the Factory Lane warehouse at 3am on Saturday July 21.
Investigations found they had been working between 50 and 70 hours a week during the school term, when their visas only allowed for 20 hours.
The disclosures will prove highly embarrassing to Tesco, which employs nearly 300,000 people.
The retailer said it was “co-operating fully” with the UKBA, adding that it had tightened its procedures. It did not condone employing illegal workers.
In a statement issued to The Daily Telegraph, a Tesco spokesman said: “In cooperation with Tesco, the UK Border Agency visited our dot com store in Croydon in July.
“As a result of this visit, a small number of staff were found to have breached the terms of their working visas. We continue to cooperate fully with the UK Border Agency as they look into this issue.”
“We take our responsibilities as an employer very seriously and do not condone illegal working of any kind.”
He added: “We have a comprehensive system for ensuring all the correct procedures are followed in this area which has been externally audited and generally works well.
“We have now taken additional steps to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again.”
A UKBA spokesman said: “We received information that some staff members were working in the UK illegally at Tesco.com on Factory Lane, Croydon.
“In response officers carried out an operation in full cooperation with the company shortly after 3am on Saturday 21 July 2012. 20 individuals have been arrested and now face removal from the UK.”
“The operation was part of an ongoing campaign to tackle visa abuse which has seen over 2,000 offenders removed since the beginning of May.”
He added: “The employer now needs to provide evidence that it was carrying out the legally required checks to avoid a fine.”
Both the UKBA and Tesco declined to comment further or discuss what fines could be issued saying that investigations were “ongoing”. Source: Daily Telegraph.
Employers better watch out, UKBA officers are out and about looking for illegal workers.
Employers who fail to carry out the proper checks on migrant workers, including Bulgarians and Romanians, risk a fine of up to £10,000.
UK work restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals, were extended until the end of 2013 by the government last November.
Immigration Advisers Bison Management has helped many companies avoid a £10,000 fine by carrying out immigration audits on all staff files. Immigration Adviser Cynthia Barker said:
‘Busy managers and owners are not always aware of the ever changing Immigration Rules on Tier 2 working visas, student visas, dependant visas and EU workers from Bulgaria and Romania who need permission to work.
‘Student visa rules on working hours and dependant’s entitlement to work have changed and many students or their dependants are working illegally because the employer has not bothered to check their visas.
‘My advice is to call in a professional to do a complete audit on all staff files before the UKBA walks in and does it for you.’
Employers, especially those who employ migrant workers on working or student visas, must have a system in place to check entitlement to work and monitor visa expiry dates, as the government is targeting illegal working.
If you need any immigration advice or are worried about the new immigration rules or need help with Sponsorship or Tier 2, Tier 4, applying for university if your college has closed down, Visa, ILR, Settlement, Citizenship, Dependant Visa or an appeal against a UK Border Agency or British Embassy refusal, or if you have been waiting for a reply from the Home Office for longer than a year, please email:
Majestic College offer special packages for EU students. They also have a number of employers looking for staff right now and are willing to employ Bulgarians and Romanians.
For more information call Joanna on 0208 207 1020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org