Migrant Workers: Legal and Fair?

Posted in : HR Updates on 15 October 2014
Angela Schettino
Think People Consulting
Issues covered:

Angela Schettino writes:

In the past week Nigel Farage (UKIP leader) in England has continued to share some controversial views about placing limits on immigration into the UK. The anti - EU politician Mr Farage’s party believe that much stricter limits should be set on who is allowed to enter the U.K, including Northern Ireland. The debate about the impact of migrant workers, in particular, on our economy is rearing its head again and many are choosing to take a negative view on immigration not least some of the media.

As employers, we should be aware of the makeup of our own workforce, how they were recruited and the impact our practices have on the perception of the business by employees, clients and key stakeholders. A pro-active and inclusive approach focusing on equal opportunity, merit and skill is generally thought to have a very positive impact on stakeholder perceptions and in turn brand image.

Employers such as Bernard Matthews are shining examples of how to employ migrant workers well, having been recognised by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills as a best-practice employer, and have also won a Business in the Community Award in recognition of the work they do to help the workers integrate into the local community.

Impact on the Economy/Job Market?

Northern Ireland in particular has seen a surge in international migration over the past decade, moving from a net migration loss to net population gain.

In an effort to assess the impact, the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey (NILT) recently incorporated a series of questions on attitudes towards minority ethnic groups, including migrant workers.

Around half of respondents indicated that migrant workers were good for Northern Ireland’s economy, and 79% were favourable towards the employment of foreign doctors and nurses.

Ambivalence towards migrants was most marked on the questions relating to jobs.

While 42% believed that migrants took jobs away from local people, 74% thought that migrants took jobs that local people don’t want or were unavailable for.

Legal and Fair Employment

Many employers in Northern Ireland are now employing a large proportion of migrant workers, particular in areas where certain skills are difficult to recruit for. In some cases the addition of migrant workers has allowed companies to grow significantly, taking on international contracts and / or large orders by employing an influx of migrant workers where there were insufficient numbers of applicants from the local population.

  • A key question however is whether employers do enough to ensure that all of their workers are working legally and whether all workers are paid fairly and equally.

Increased Penalty for Employing Illegal Workers

In May this year, the penalty for employing illegal workers increased from £10,000 to £20,000 for each illegal worker found. This includes students who are working outside of the terms of their visas.

As an employer you must carry out right to work checks on all employees to ensure they are compliant with the immigration on rules and specifically what these mean for employers who are employing non EEA nationals.

The Home Office has issued a statutory code of practice on how to prevent illegal working this includes repeat checks. The requirement to repeat checks every 12 months has been removed and the list of acceptable documents has also been reduced.

Before you employ you must:

  • See the worker’s original documents.
  • Check that the documents are valid with the worker present.
  • Take copies, sign that you have seen the original and date it.

Effective recruitment practices must be in place to ensure that these checks are taken to prevent illegal working.

To ensure the documents are valid you must check that:

  • the documents are originals and belong to the person who has given them to you
  • the dates for the worker’s right to work in the UK have not expired
  • photos are the same across all documents and look like the applicant
  • dates of birth are the same across all documents
  • the person has permission to do the type of work that you are offering (including any limit on the number of hours they can work)
  • for students you must see evidence of their study and break times
  • if 2 documents give different names, the person has supporting documents showing why they are different, e.g. marriage certificate or divorce decree.

If the potential employee does not have any restrictions on their right to work in the UK there is no need to make further checks. Following the initial check where they only have temporary permission to be and work in the UK, follow up checks must be done when their permission to be in the UK and undertake the work in question expires.

Be Aware of Ghost Workers

Some employers are being caught out by the emergence of ‘ghost worker’s. This can be discovered even despite stringent checks by managers at recruitment interviews. It occurs when one individual turns up to a recruitment interview with their genuine documents which are duly checked, verified and copied. However, the person who actually turns up to work on site each day is someone else, an illegal worker. It is therefore prudent to include a visual check that the person whose documents you have is actually the person who comes to work!


You must keep copies of the relevant documents during their employment with you for 2 years after they leave. If the worker cannot show you the relevant documentation you must use the Home Office’s Employer Checking Service to see if they have the right to work or not.

The documents that are considered acceptable for demonstrating the right to work in the UK are set out on the GOV.UK website in the new Code of Practice.

This article is correct at 21/10/2015

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Angela Schettino
Think People Consulting

The main content of this article was provided by Angela Schettino. Contact telephone number is 028 9031 0450 or email Angela.Schettino@thinkpeople.co.uk

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