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Under new proposals announced on Tuesday, the government is planning to come down much harder on small businesses that employ illegal migrants as well as the migrants themselves.
The move comes in response to fears that African and Middle Eastern immigrants are forcing their way into the UK from camps in the French port of Calais.
Related article: The Migrant Crisis – How is it affecting businesses?
The measures, which are to be included within the forthcoming Immigration Bill in the autumn, will give power to UK border officials to close businesses for up to 48 hours to allow for investigation, if they are suspected to be employing illegal workers.
Takeaway restaurants, local convenience shops and off-licences could face having their licences to sell food and alcohol revoked under the proposals and the BBC reports that the government is currently considering whether to extend this provision to cover minicab operators and drivers.
Additionally, there are plans to remove the legal defence of business owners that they were unaware of their employee’s lack of right to work in Britain and moving forwards will need to prove that proper checks were carried out before employing staff.
Under the proposals, the maximum sentence for those hiring illegal migrants will rise from two years to five years in addition to the fines that are currently in place.
Migrants themselves could face up to six months in jail if found to be working illegally in England and Wales, in addition to an unlimited fine and wages being seized.
Minister for Security and Immigration at the Home Office, James Brokenshire said: “Anyone who thinks the UK is a soft touch should be in no doubt - if you are here illegally, we will take action to stop you from working, renting a flat, opening a bank account or driving a car.”
“As a one nation government we will continue to crack down on abuse and build an immigration system that works in the best interests of the British people and those who play by the rules,” he added.
Migration Watch UK, an independent, voluntary and non-political body which supports tighter immigration controls welcomed the announcement.
Alp Mehmet, a former British diplomat who sits on Migration Watch UK’s advisory council said: “This is not just about not being seen as a soft touch.”
“More important is for the message to go out that if you are here illegally and caught working, you and your employer will end up in court.”
“Let us hope that the authorities will not shy away from acting on the powers they are to be given, since their record on that front has not always been exemplary.”
Earlier this month, the government also announced that under the proposed immigration bill, landlords in England would be required to evict tenants who lose the right to live in the UK.
Landlords will be able to end tenancies, sometimes without a court order, when asylum requests fail. They will also be required to check a migrant’s status before agreeing a lease, with repeat offenders facing up to five years in prison.
Estimates of the numbers of illegal immigrants in the UK vary considerably and according to the Oxford Migration Observatory, the true figure could be anywhere between 420,000 and 860,000.
The BBC reports that immigration officers are planning to mount a wave of raids this autumn, to target building sites, care homes and cleaning contractors.
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