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UK gov mulls prison for those employing illegal immigrants

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The UK government is considering increasing fines and introducing prison sentences to encourage employers to act as immigration police on their own staff.

The Home Office published a consultation paper (21 page pdf) on its plans today, inviting comment on its proposed system of penalties.

The penalties were attached to a sliding scale according to the quality of identity check an employer has made on a prospective employee.

From next month, The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) will be running a six-month trial under which employers can register as agents entitled to make checks of immigration status and the validity of passports.

Those who make full checks as agents of the IPS will not receive penalties. But employers who knowingly employ people without work permits could be imprisoned for up to two years, given an unlimited fine, and disqualified from directing a company.

Firms could receive fines of up to £5,000 per worker if they have not performed ID checks and are found to be employing people without work permits, whether through intention or negligence.

The scale of fines for lesser offences will have employers up for charges of between £625 and £5,000 per worker.

An IPS spokesman said the trial of employers as immigration agents was just the first stage in a possible series of checks. It would initially just involve employers phoning the IPS to check if someone's identity documents were valid.

In the future, he said, if demand from employers was high enough, they could be given the means to swipe their employees' documentation and do a full biometric check of their credentials.

Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said in a statement that "it is not enough" to vet people at borders. They had to be vetted by their employers as well.

"That means making it easier for companies to check whether someone is here legally - but also coming down much harder on businesses which break the rules or turn a blind eye," he said.

"So alongside compulsary ID cards for foreign nationals will come bigger, faster fines for those who break the law," he added.

Byrne also ruled out the idea of an amnesty for illegal immigrants already working in the UK.®

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