New immigration bill – what it means for business

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The new Conservative government has announced plans, outlined in a speech by the Prime Minister last week and in today's Queen's Speech, that it will introduce fundamental changes to the immigration system as set out in the Conservative election manifesto.

The government appears determined to make good its promise in the 2010 election to reduce net migration to 'tens of thousands'. Despite that promise, the last figures revealed by the Office of National Statistics reveal that net migration is at almost record figures. In 2014 net migration was 318,000, the highest ever being under Labour in 2005 at 320,000.

Key points

  • A reduction in the number of skilled workers coming to the UK
  • EU reform
  • A new criminal offence of illegal working 
  • New police powers to seize the wages of illegal workers as 'proceeds of crime'
  • The rolling out nationwide of the Civil Penalties for Landlords scheme
  • New laws making it easier for landlords to evict tenants who are illegally in the UK
  • Banning businesses from advertising for workers abroad before first advertising in the UK

Reducing the number of skilled workers 

In his speech the Prime Minster said that business in the UK has become too reliant on skilled workers from overseas and that businesses need to start to train British workers. Business leaders have expressed dismay that employers may not be able to import the talent they need.

EU Reform

The major issue in EU reform is to control immigration. EU leaders have already indicated that the right of free movement within the EU is so fundamental to the Union that it is 'not open to negotiation'. Obviously, if EU workers were not allowed to come to the UK, this would have a major effect on business. However there is no possibility of this happening in the short or even medium term future.

Illegal working

At present an employer can be fined up to £20,000 for employing an illegal worker but there is no sanction against the employee. The government has promised to make illegal working a criminal offence and police will have the power to seize wages. It is unclear how far the law will extend, for example whether it be a criminal offence for a foreign student to work more than the usual 20 hours a week permitted. It is also unclear whether the police's power will be only to seize unpaid wages or will extend to savings the person may have that came from wages.

Civil penalties for landlords

Since December 2014 there has been a pilot scheme running in the Midlands imposing fines of up to £3000 on private landlords who rent residential property to illegal immigrants. The new government has promised to roll the scheme out nationwide. There is no official report yet on the success of the pilot scheme. There is no detail of the proposed new powers to evict illegal immigrants from properties. Bearing in mind the difficulties employers face when determining whether their employees have the right to work or not (it is not always straight-forward), it remains to be seen how an expedited system to evict people from their homes will work in practice.

Advertising

Employers who wish to employ non-EU workers already need (in most cases) to advertise in the UK before a foreign worker can be hired. However, employers are free to recruit EU workers by advertising exclusively outside the UK. Whether the government's plan to force employers to advertise in the UK is contrary to EU principles remains to be seen.

Please click here to read our article and find out what the Queen's speech means for employment law.