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Employing foreign workers in the UK

Penalties for employing foreign workers without the right the work in the UK

Employing foreign workers in the UK

"It is a criminal offence to knowingly employ a person without the right to work in the UK. You can be held personally accountable and penalised with imprisonment."
AWH Solicitors

Many UK businesses are heavily reliant on foreign staff for both short- and long-term roles.

For businesses that recruit foreign nationals there are clear rules in place. Businesses must follow UK employment legislation to the letter, as if they do not, it could cost them significantly.

It's been all over the news for years, illegal workers being arrested, businesses being fined and regulations being tightened.

Last year a London based Christmas market was caught employing illegal workers for 12+ hour shifts with a pay lower than £5 per hour and in 2012 a London based Tesco was fined £155,000 for employing foreign workers. Illegal working happens across a large range of industries. Offences range from underpaying staff to making them work excessively long hours. In some cases, the workers are allowed to do some work on the visa they are on, and in some cases they have to right to work or live in the UK at all. 

Penalties for employing foreign workers without the right the work in the UK

It is a criminal offence to knowingly employ a person without the right to work in the UK. This means that as an employer you wouldn’t just risk your business being fined for such misconduct, you could also be held personally accountable and penalised with imprisonment.

You can be sent to prison for up to five years if you are found guilty of knowingly employing someone that did not have the right to work. In addition, you could also receive unlimited fines.

Generally, businesses know about these penalties and therefore they will carefully check the right to work for all applicants.

If you are currently residing in the UK and you are looking to work, you must make sure you have the right to work prior to applying for any jobs. If your visa does not allow you to take up employment you should first apply for the appropriate visa or get in touch with an immigration solicitor to help you with your application.

Manchester based immigration solicitors AWH can help both individuals and businesses with visa applications and sponsorship licences across the country.

Recruiting foreign nationals lawfully

Before offering employment to any person, British or otherwise, you should always make and keep a copy of the applicant’s identification. If the applicant is not a British citizen, you will additionally need to check their right to work in the UK by checking their immigration status.

If the applicant does not yet have to right to work in the UK, or more specifically; does not yet have the right to do the job you are offering you may want to consider sponsoring the employee for a work permit.

To be able to sponsor an employee for a visa you must first apply for a visa sponsorship licence. You are eligible for such a licence as long as your business does not have any unspent criminal convictions such as money laundering, previous immigration offences or a history of poor conduct in regard to a previous sponsorship licence.

There are two types of sponsorship licences that you can apply for; a sponsorship licence to recruit and hire Tier 2 – Skilled workers (long-term employment) and a Tier 5 – Skilled temporary workers licence. Which of these options is most appropriate for you will depend on the needs of your business.

Setting up your business for the recruitment of foreign workers

Clear processes must be followed to ensure you follow UK employment and immigration law, as failure to do so can cause a meaningful backlash on both yourself and your business.

Depending on the number of employees you recruit, the percentage of foreign workers you employ or are planning to employ and the human resource support you have available to you, it may be advisable to work with legal specialists, immigration solicitors or international recruitment advisors to ensure your business is fully compliant.