Preventing illegal working
This section describes how employers can ensure that they only employ people who are allowed to work in the UK, and explains the penalties employers face for employing migrants illegally.
It is illegal to employ someone who is not allowed to work in the UK. As an employer, you have a duty to check potential employees' documents, before you employ them, to ensure they have the right to work in the UK. This will enable you to establish a statutory (legal) excuse against having to pay a penalty if we find you are employing an illegal worker. You can find full details of the checking process in the guidance booklet for employers on the right side of this page.
To gain a statutory excuse, you must:
- ask for and take copies of original, acceptable documents showing that the person is allowed to work before they start working for you, following the 3-step process in the guidance; and
- if a person has a restriction on the type of work they can do and/or the hours they can work, make sure the job you give them does not break those conditions.
If a person has a time limit on their right to work, you will only keep your excuse if you repeat the document checks at least once every 12 months.
You will not have an excuse if you knowingly employ an illegal worker, even if you carry out the correct checks before or during their employment.
If you do not carry out these checks and are found employing an illegal worker, we will take tough action against you. You would be fined up to £10,000 for each illegal worker, or face up to 2 years in prison.
The checks you should make (or have made) to ensure your employees are entitled to work in the UK depend on when each person started working for you. The pages below give details of which checks you should make, according to the recruitment date.
- Checks for staff employed before 27 January 1997
- Checks for staff employed from 27 January 1997 to 30 April 2004
- Checks for staff employed from 1 May 2004 to 28 February 2008
- Checks for staff employed from 29 February 2008
When you check a potential employee's biometric residence permist, you must look at it carefully. It will show the person's right to work, study or access public funds. You can also use our online service to check an employee's right to work, using their biometric residence permit.
You are not legally required to check documents, but we recommend that you do so for everyone you wish to employ. This will:
- enable you to establish an excuse against having to pay a civil penalty if you are found to have employed someone who does not have the right to work in the UK;
- show that your recruitment process is open and transparent; and
- ensure that your recruitment practices do not discriminate against anyone because of their race.
If you have a sponsor licence under the points-based system (as an employer and/or an education provider), a failure to keep records on the migrants you are sponsoring could affect your suitability to be a sponsor.
Avoiding racial discrimination
The prevention of illegal working can often raise race discrimination issues. When carrying out checks on employees, you must be careful not to use discriminatory recruitment practices. The Avoiding racial discrimination page explains how you can avoid unlawful discrimination in recruitment while trying to prevent illegal working.
The overwhelming majority of employers and migrants to the UK are law-abiding and want to comply with their legal obligations. We are keen to support them and make this as simple as possible.
Use our online 'right to work' checking service.
If you employ illegal migrant workers, you could face a big fine.
Resources and services to help you comply with the law.
Do it online
MORE NEWS AND UPDATES
- Changes to the Immigration Rules - July 2013
- Changes to the highly trusted sponsor application process
- New Tier 2 application form – 4 June 2013
- Five arrested and £15,000 seized following raids in Croydon