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Government's immigration shake-up poses problems for construction

Many of us were following the Conservative Party conference policy announcements with keen interest.

You may, like many others, have been particularly concerned by a number of statements made by the home secretary Amber Rudd.

While, in light of the understandable public outcry, the government has stepped back from its proposal that companies be required to publicly name all non-EU national workers, it has not dismissed the requirement out of hand.

Identifying the gap

Its reasons for such a disclosure are, it seems, aimed at identifying regions and industries with skills shortages that require them to rely on overseas workers rather than local skilled workers.

Collating such high-level information may have its merits if information is genuinely used to provide targeted training and support in particular areas. However, companies have understandable concerns about balancing any disclosure alongside their obligations to handle the sensitive personal data of their workforce.

“What is clear is that policy statement sits within a climate of naming and shaming employers who are not legally compliant”

Furthermore there could be allegations of discrimination from non-EU national prospective workers if companies are prohibited from employing them because their employer is perceived to already have too high a proportion of non-EU nationals in their workforce.

What is clear is that policy statement sits within a climate of naming and shaming employers who are not legally compliant.

Some context required

This falls within the wider context of stricter penalties under the Immigration Act 2016 (employers can be imprisoned for up to five years if they know or have reasonable cause to believe that they are employing people illegally), increasing civil penalties (£21.5m from July to December 2015) and the EU referendum.

Research has shown that 75 per cent of EU citizens working in the UK would not meet current visa requirements for non-EU overseas workers if Britain left the EU. This rate would rise to 80 per cent once new rules, due to come into force in April 2017.

In the coming months, the construction industry, which is reliant on EU workers, should continue to monitor Home Office announcements on post-Brexit proposed rules to address future workforce resourcing.

The construction industry is acknowledged to be a high-risk industry for illegal working alongside hospitality, retail and care homes.

In an era of more sophisticated forged right to work documents, the industry will need to be aware of the increasing number of Home Office raids which, given that civil penalties can be up to £20,000 per illegal worker, can lead to substantial funding for the Home Office.

Workforce monitoring and reviewing right-to-work documentation should be a priority to minimise the risk of such penalties.

Vikki Wiberg is senior counsel in the Employment, Pensions & Mobility group at Taylor Wessing

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