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UK Companies Employing Staff Illegally | Immigration Matters

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UK bosses are still employing foreign staff without proper papers or permission to work.

Under new legislation introduced this year British employers face fines of up £2000 per illegal employee and a possible 2 year prison sentence for knowingly using or exploiting illegal workers.

Since writing on this subject for Immigration Matters last October I have received hundreds of enquiries from worried employers and workers. Whilst the vast majority of UK employers are law abiding, many are still unwittingly employing overseas staff illegally.

As an immigration adviser I have found that in the Care Industry, home owners and managers continue to make the same mistakes with non-EU staff. Errors include:

Accepting invalid or expired Work Permits

Accepting a Work Permit issued for another employer

Employing someone without Further Leave to Remain (FLR)

Employing Students beyond the maximum permitted hours

Employing people with documents “tied up” at the Home Office

A common mistake I find occurs is when a work permit holder leaves one employer to join another. In many cases the employee will simply present their passport, which has what they think is a valid visa stamp, and their National Insurance (Social Security) number.

The employer is not always aware that the visa or ‘Leave to Remain’ is tied to the work permit, which has been issued to their former employer and is, therefore, invalid.

Although the previous employer has a duty to inform the Home Office to cancel the work permit when someone leaves, this is often overlooked and the situation can go on undetected for years.

The CSCI will check your employee files for valid work permits and visas. A National Insurance number, P45 or P60 no longer provides an employer with statutory defence.

What are the employer’s responsibilities?

You must check and take reasonable steps to ensure that any potential employee is entitled to work in the UK. Steps include checking passports, visas stamps and where applicable valid work permits.

In the case of students, check the type of course they are undertaking. Most students can work up to 20 hours per week, but some ‘sandwich’ courses may allow them to work longer hours.

Finally, where people have their passports and documents perpetually “tied up” at the Home Office, ask for further written proof of their eligibility to work or call the Home Office yourself.

Employees should also need to be vigilant in ensuring they are legally employed by checking their own documents as well as keeping an eye on expiry dates. Don’t just assume your employer has everything in hand – check it. Employers are busy and do not always have the knowledge and know how to deal with immigration issues.

Remember the golden rule – NEVER let a visa or permit expire before renewing.

This is obviously a complex subject and I suggest you take legal advice if in any doubt.

Where can employers find further information?

The Home Office publishes a guide on their website ( and also has an Employer Helpline 0845 010 6677. Copies of example visas and passport stamps can be viewed and downloaded from the site. The Home Office website is huge and finding the correct information can be difficult.

More user friendly information can also be found on the Business Link website ( in a section on “Employing People” or on Useful Websites at

Different rules apply to citizens of the new EU member states see Home Office site for information on the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS).

A number of employers, fed up with the constant changes in rules and the administrative burden in arranging work permits and visas, are now outsourcing the work to immigration advisers.

I will be speaking at the Care Show on: “Are You Employing Staff Illegally?”

The Care Show (NEC, Birmingham 25th26th October 2006) –

I will be on the Guide2Care stand afterwards and hope to see you there.

For regular immigration updates see:

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