Changes to Employment and Immigration law: the new ‘Immigration Bill’

The Government’s recently introduced Immigration Bill makes various changes to laws applying to foreign workers in 2016. Most notably, these include: creating a greater offence of illegal working; requiring all public-facing public-sector employees to speak English fluently; and introducing an immigration skills charge for employers that use foreign workers.

The Immigration Bill has effectively created a new criminal offence of illegal working – which affects all migrants who are either working in the UK without permission, continue to do so once their visa or term of permission has expired, or are subject to a condition which prevents them from undertaking their work.

The offence will be punishable by imprisonment for up to 51 weeks, a one-off fine or, in some cases, both. UK migrants convicted of the offence could also have their unlawful earnings seized.

Furthermore, the Bill requires all employees working in the public sector, in roles that involve facing members of the public, to speak English. The Bill also brings great changes to the existing offence of employing an illegal worker – most notably through increases in penalties.

Previously, an employer was required to have had full knowledge that a migrant in their employment did not have permission to work in the UK, before that employer could be officially charged. The maximum penalty was two years’ imprisonment.

Under the new provisions of the Bill, the offence may now be committed by any employer who either knows or has reasonable cause to believe that a migrant in their employment is working without leave. The maximum penalty has now been raised to five years’ imprisonment.

Finally, the Bill has introduced an immigration skills charge for employers who take on foreign workers. This will apply to all businesses recruiting workers from outside the EEA. The Government are yet to decide on the charge, but the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) suggests that an appropriate amount would be £1,000 per year of the visa applied for. This means that the charge due on a 3-year visa would be £3,000 and on a 5-year visa £5,000. New legislation will be needed to bring this final change into effect.