UK: Construction Industry Targeted for Illegal Workers

Operation Magnify, a new Home Office initiative, has been launched in an attempt to identify illegal workers within the construction industry. Tuesday, 13th October saw the Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, meet with construction leaders to voice his concerns about illegal working within this field.

Mr Brokenshire commented, “Employers within the construction industry have a critical role to play in helping to combat this by ensuring they carry out the straightforward “Right to Work” checks on potential employees that prevent illegal working in the UK.”

At this early stage, the Home Office has not revealed specific information on the parties they will be targeting first and on what grounds they suspect illegal working.  Based on our experience serving a wide range of clients in the construction industry, Newland Chase understands the challenges faced by some employers when it comes to understanding their obligations to undertake right to work checks.  Particularly for large scale, global construction projects, there will often be multiple parties to a contract and workers may also be based on client sites for the execution of different phases of work.  Thus, it may not always be obvious to employers who holds responsibility for conducting right to work checks, especially in the case of contractors and agency workers for whom there is no explicit obligation to retain on file documentary evidence of right to work.  

Whilst the requirement is that employers are accountable for undertaking right to work checks on their direct employees or workers sponsored by them under Tier 2, there is also a general duty on employers to prevent illegal working by those subject to immigration control.  Effectively, then, this obligation would appear to extend to any business visitors and other categories of workers who may be on-site and working without the requisite immigration permission.  This puts employers in a difficult position when it comes to balancing their obligation to maintain immigration compliance with the administrative burdens or additional work involved in establishing right to work status of those whom they may not directly employ or sponsor. 

It is therefore important to ensure that HR systems and processes are robust enough to mitigate the potential risks of an employer being found non-compliant in the area of right to work checks.  Those operating within the construction industry are reminded of their legal obligation to undertake full right to work checks on employees who are employed or sponsored by them. Evidence of these checks must be retained as there is a real possibility that either their Head Office, or a construction site, may be visited shortly by a Home Office Compliance Officer further to this new initiative. Employers are under a legal obligation to comply with any reasonable requests for information by Home Office officials.  It would also be prudent for employers to have a procedure in place to ascertain the status of any other workers on site, even if not directly employed by them.  This does not necessarily mean documents have to be retained for such individuals, but that there is at least a process to gauge who is working on site and on what basis they are permitted to do so.  The maximum fine per illegal worker is £20,000.

Newland Chase works with a number of clients in the oil and gas, construction and engineering industries, many of which are familiar with the quandaries of immigration compliance and have already seen a rise in unannounced audits coupled with increased collaboration between the Home Office and other government agencies.   

We specialise in guiding employers through the right to work process and ensuring that all staff members have the appropriate evidence of their ability to work. If you have any queries about what the right to work process involves or any concerns about how Operation Magnify may affect your business, please contact us.


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