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The Home Office have at their disposal an arsenal of penalties that they can deploy against employers found to be hiring illegal workers, such as fines of up to £20,000 per illegal worker, criminal prosecutions and the revocation of Sponsor Licences. Inspections can be announced or unannounced, so is your business ready and able to pass an inspection unscathed?

It is no secret that Immigration control has been a hot topic on the political agenda for quite some time. The Home Office has already taken considerable steps towards tightening certain aspects of Immigration control over the years, and this has generally been achieved by passing responsibilities on to private individuals and organisations. We have already reported on the Right to Rent Check system here, but in this article we are focusing on the duties imposed upon employers.

Employers’ penalties

All UK employers are responsible for ensuring that their staff have the right to work in the UK. This is a continuing duty. If checks are not carried out and records are not kept then the Home Office can consider taking action against both the employer and the employee.

For the employer this action could result in a civil fine being issued for up to £20,000 per illegal worker. There is also the possibility of criminal prosecution with a maximum prison sentence of 5 years. The burden placed on the employer is therefore very high.

For businesses who routinely hire foreign workers under a Sponsor Licence, there is the risk of losing that Sponsor Licence which could have far-reaching implications for their current staff and the future of their business. It is therefore imperative that employers and sponsors are fully compliant with their obligations.


The Home Office regularly publishes data in relation to the number of civil penalties issued to employers for hiring illegal workers. Below are some statistics for the July – September 2016 period:

  • Number of illegal workers found: 850
  • Number of penalties issued: 662
  • Total value of penalties issued: £10,240,000


The Home Office and their Immigration Officers have the authority to inspect business premises as part of the Sponsorship system or where there is a suspicion or allegation of illegal workers being present on the premises.

These inspections can be announced or unannounced so employers should remain vigilant and alive to the possibility that an inspection could happen at any time, particularly if the business already has a Sponsor Licence, or where such Licence is coming up for renewal.

What can employers do to prepare?

Employers must ensure that they have proper processes and checks in place to monitor the immigration status on a continuing basis. However, simply having the systems in place does not truly prepare a business for a full Home Office inspection. These systems need to be adequately ‘stress-tested’ to see how they measure up.

Our teams can offer a ‘HR Health Check’ to test the systems a business has in place and check whether the personnel files are compliant with Immigration Law requirements. The idea of these checks is to identify any red flags which could result in a penalty being imposed in a real inspection.  These HR Health Checks can be in the form of a document inspection, physical inspection or telephone inspection, whether on an announced or unannounced basis.

If you are an employer, business owner or HR manager, we strongly advise that you consider what systems you currently have in place and contact a member of our Immigration team to arrange a HR Health Check.

To discuss any of these matters further, please contact a member of our Immigration team to arrange a joint consultation or to discuss any specific matter in more detail.