Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

UK Triples Fines for Hiring Migrants Without Work Permission

A group of people standing in front of a pound sign.

​The U.K. will triple fines for employers who hire migrants who are in the country illegally, effective early next year—a change the government calls the biggest shakeup in civil penalties in a decade.

Fines for landlords renting their properties to migrants who are in the country illegally will more than triple.

The civil penalty for employers will be raised to up to 45,000 pounds—approximately $54,557—per worker without the right to work in the U.K. for a first breach and up to 60,000 pounds—approximately $72,749—for repeat breaches, said Nelli Shevchenko, an attorney with Seyfarth in London. The previous amounts were 15,000 pounds (approximately $18,187) and 20,000 pounds (approximately $24,250), respectively.

The change affects employers of all sizes that hire migrants without permission to work in the U.K.

Proper Checks

"To avoid civil and criminal penalties, employers must ensure they have the appropriate procedures for right-to-work checks. If the company hasn't completed a right-to-work check correctly, they won't have a statutory excuse against a civil penalty if there ends up being a problem with an employee's immigration permission," Shevchenko said.

"The scale of these civil penalties, particularly from next year, can be catastrophic for a smaller business, and compliance with right-to-work checks is increasingly important. We recommend carrying out training to relevant employees involved in the hiring and onboarding processes and regular audits of internal compliance files to make sure the procedure is being followed properly," she said.

Employers should review their existing processes for new employees' onboarding and check files for all existing employees to adjust for any existing errors or data gaps, Shevchenko said. Any audits or checks must be done in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Vanessa Ganguin, partner (consultant) with GQ Littler in London, said employers can protect themselves from the fines by using post-pandemic digital and physical right-to-work checks.

"No employer wants to be caught employing anyone illegally. It could end up restricting their ability to make new hires and affect a firm reputationally as well as entailing fines, which are already high. Whether increasing them any further would make a difference is debatable," Ganguin said.

Many right-to-work breaches by employers can happen due to simple mistakes and not purposeful criminal or reckless activity, she added. For instance, an employer will not be protected by carrying out a right-to-work check toward the end of someone's first day on the job, and it is easy to check an expired passport by mistake. "So, we do advise firms to carry out audits of their processes and ensure they avoid what can be tiny but costly mistakes," she said.

The government framed the increased fines as a tool for alleviating migrants' dangerous journeys and fighting migrant smuggling.

"Making it harder for illegal migrants to work and operate in the U.K. is vital to deterring dangerous, unnecessary small boat crossings," Robert Jenrick, U.K. immigration minister, said in an August post on the government's website. "Unscrupulous landlords and employers who allow illegal working and renting enable the business model of the evil people-smugglers. There is no excuse for not conducting the appropriate checks and those in breach will now face significantly tougher penalties."

Employers can verify worker eligibility by manually checking original documentation and using the Home Office online checking system, the post says, noting the online check takes just five minutes. These procedures haven't changed, according to the government, which has tightened immigration enforcement significantly this year.

Stepped-Up Enforcement

The higher fines are among recent immigration policy and enforcement moves by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Ganguin said. Last year, Sunak pledged to boost immigration enforcement staff and implement a 50 percent increase in raids on illegal employment, she said.

The cost of visas was set to increase far higher than inflation in early October, and the compulsory Immigration Health Surcharge that immigrants pay to use the U.K.'s National Health Service is also set to increase, likely in early 2024, Ganguin said.

The government has targeted U.K. immigration as a source for government funding, justifying recent increases in U.K. visa filing fees to fund public sector pay increases, according to Shevchenko.

In addition, immigration enforcement checks have increased this year, and Home Office visits targeting workers without lawful immigration status have increased by 50 percent since last year, Shevchenko said.

The Home Office also plans to consult on options to strengthen action against sponsor-licensed companies that employ workers without lawful immigration status. These companies, which have licenses to hire workers from outside the U.K., are generally held to a higher compliance standard for right-to-work checks and immigration, Shevchenko said.

"We find that the Home Office targets what they may regard as high-risk businesses for illegal working visits. It could be when they receive a tip-off or a business is in certain sectors such as hospitality or social care," Ganguin said.

Dinah Wisenberg Brin is a reporter and writer based in Philadelphia.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.