The Immigration Bill has received Royal Assent, introducing a series of reforms, which the Government have stated will "tackle the exploitation of low-skilled workers".
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said: "Some employers seem to think that by employing workers who are less likely to complain, including vulnerable migrants, they can undercut the local labour market and mistreat them with impunity. The unscrupulous need to know that breaking the law is a high-risk activity and the full force of the state will be applied to them."
The Immigration Act 2016 makes a number of changes to the criminal offence of employing illegal workers. The Act introducestougher sanctions on employers, increasing the maximum prison sentence on conviction from two to five years, as well as introducing a completely new power to close premises for up to 48 hours where a business employs illegal migrants although, that 'closure notice' may be withdraw if an employer can evidence that it has carried out the appropriate Right-to-Work checks.
The Immigration Act has also introduced powers to prosecute migrants working illegally in the UK as a criminal offence in its own right, with a maximum custodial sentence of six months and/or a fine. Furthermore, income earned by the illegal worker can be seized as the proceeds of crime.
The Act has introduced a new Director of Labour Market Enforcement with the responsibility of overseeing the public bodies that enforce the different minimum standards for workers, including HM Revenue and Customs.
There is also a visa levy, namely the immigration skills charge, which is payable by all employers who sponsor foreign migrants to work for their companies in the UK.
Clio Springer, senior employment law editor at XpertHR said: "While employers that comply with the immigration rules when employing foreign nationals are unlikely to be affected by many of the Immigration Act's enforcement provisions, those that sponsor migrants under tier 2 of the Government's points-based system may, in future, find themselves having to pay the visa levy (immigration skills charge). The details are yet to be decided and the Government has said that there will be a consultation so employers should look out for further developments."
In addition to this, the Act states that all public-sector employees who work directly with the public,will be required to speak 'good' English. Although the Immigration Act 2016 is now law, the majority of the measures will be commenced only once regulations are made. Therefore, this English language requirement will come into force when the Government issues a code of practice to help public authorities identify fluency.
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