Two-thirds of the illegal construction workers were Indian nationals but other nationalities included Albanians, Pakistanis and Nigerians.
Home Office immigration enforcement officials visited 69 construction sites and businesses between 11 and 18 October 2015 as part of what they are calling Operation Magnify – a “drive to stamp out illegal working by targeting specific ‘risk’ industries”, the Home Office says.
Of the 257 people arrested during the week of action in the construction industry, 119 had overstayed their visas (with Tier 4 general student and family visit visas being the most common types breached; one third each), 127 did not have a visa at all and the remaining 11 were arrested for other immigration offences. They are now being deported.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire said: “Illegal working undermines legitimate employers, drives down wages and denies employment to hard-working UK citizens and legal migrants. Operation Magnify is all about disrupting illegal working and making life impossible for employers who do not play by the rules. The results show that the cross government approach is working.
“We are sending out a strong message by extending this initiative to other employment sectors. While we are happy to work with those businesses to help them carry out the right checks on their staff those who do not play by the rules could face severe financial consequences.
“Through our Immigration Bill, currently going through Parliament, we will lower the existing evidence requirement to make it easier to prosecute those who know, or reasonably suspect, that an employee has no permission to work in the UK.
“We are also increasing the current maximum sentence from two to five years and introducing new powers to close businesses or have their licences removed.”
Nine businesses received Immigration Enforcement referral notices, warning that they may be liable for financial penalties of up to £20,000 per illegal worker arrested. They must now prove that they checked for appropriate right to work documents.
A total of 74 suspected breaches of the illegal working legislation were exposed during the construction industry phase of Operation Magnify, meaning that a potential total of £1,480,000 of civil penalties could be issued to employers. This total includes 20 suspected breaches that emerged following checks carried out with other government agencies after the visits. Some businesses have breached legislation more than once.
A visit to a Sword Construction Ltd building site in Chester on 12 October resulted in the arrest of 20 illegal workers. The potential penalty of £400,000 is under consideration and is the largest of the campaign.