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Hiring Foreign Workers

Earlier this month five Cumbrian businesses were left facing a bill of more than £100,000 between them for employing illegal workers.

Home Office immigration officers swooped on the businesses – including an Indian restaurant and a car wash  – following tip offs.

Foreign workers can be a great asset to UK businesses, but illegal working has damaging social and economic consequences for the UK – undercutting businesses operating within the law, undermining British workers, and exploiting migrant workers.

When recruiting employees of any nationality, employers have a responsibility to check that they have the right to work in the UK. And with the use of biometric residence permits (credit card sized immigration documents that hold a persons fingerprints and photographs on a secure chip), and the ability to verify details online, there is little excuse for not doing so.

Failure to carry out the proper checks can result in hefty fines (up to £10,000 for each illegal worker) and even up to two years in prison. The UK Border Agency regularly conducts visits to businesses suspected of ignoring the rules.

Here we look at how to perform the proper checks and ensure that you and your business are protected from civil penalties should an employee turn out to be an illegal worker.

  • Ask for original, acceptable documents from List A or B (see below).
  • Take reasonable steps to check that a document is genuine and satisfy yourself that the person presenting it is the rightful holder and is allowed to do the type of work you are offering.
  • Take copies of relevant documents in a way that cannot be altered. It’s a good idea to sign and date these as well.
  • 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 ‘statutory excuse’ if you repeat the document checks at least once every 12 months.

More information on Lists A and B, what are considered ‘reasonable steps’ and details on taking copies that cannot be altered can be found on the Home Office Website.

If you have performed these checks correctly (retaining proof that you have done so) and you are found to be employing an illegal worker unknowingly you will have a ‘statutory excuse’ against being fined.

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 or if you employ an illegal worker having failed to carry out the correct checks.

You should carry out checks on all people before they start working for you, regardless of background, appearance or accent, to avoid discrimination. Do not make presumptions about a person’s right to work in the UK.

For support with all stages of recruitment, and ensuring compliance with employment law, contact TurnstoneHR on 01229 615 280 or email us at for a FREE consultation.


“There is evidence to suggest that good HR practice and people management in SMEs are key factors in strong business performance and can lead to increased productivity.”

- CIPD people Skills Project 2017


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