Migrants who entered the country illegally and are working in the black market face a new crackdown on their access to bank accounts, jobs in the gig economy and public services including education and health.
Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, is to head a new taskforce to use “every available power” across Government to ensure “only those eligible can work, receive benefits or access public services”.
The drive aims to progress Theresa May’s “hostile environment for illegal migration” that was paused in the wake of the Windrush scandal.
The controversial practice of bank checks on the immigration status of account holders will be reinstated but with an appeal mechanism to ensure no-one is wrongly denied access to cash.
The taskforce will also review whether new legislation is needed to prevent migrants who crossed the Channel to enter illegally exploiting the explosion in casual self-employed jobs in the gig economy such as food delivery drivers and car hire.
It will be allied to a 50 per cent increase in immigration enforcement visits to workplaces in key sectors such as construction, car washes and gig economy businesses.
Far less attractive destination
There has already been a 10 per cent rise in immigration enforcement visits to 1,152 since December 11, resulting in 362 arrests and businesses being issued with 92 illegal working civil penalties worth £1.5 million.
The Government believes that ratcheting up enforcement activity on illegal working combined with curbs on access to public services will make the UK a far less attractive destination for migrants “asylum shopping” on the continent and help reverse the surge in Channel crossings.
Mr Jenrick said: “Illegal working causes untold harm to our communities, cheating honest workers of employment, putting vulnerable people at risk, and defrauding the public purse.
“Our Immigration Enforcement teams are working round the clock to bring those violating our laws to justice. It’s our priority to crack down on this crime and empower law enforcement to remove illegal migrants.
“With support from our new enforcement taskforce, we will go further and faster to prevent the abuse of our laws and borders and crack down on individuals exploiting the generosity of the UK taxpayer.”
Rigorous checks on immigration status
The taskforce – involving ministers and officials from the Home Office and departments of work and pensions, transport, education and health – will investigate how to update the right to work regulations to tackle the issue in the gig economy.
Ministers want to ensure that bosses are maintaining rigorous checks on the immigration status of their staff, many of whom are self-employed.
The taskforce will examine how to protect access to rented accommodation, bank accounts, healthcare, education, driving licences, and public funds to only those eligible.
Ministers recognise that denying or cancelling anyone’s access to a bank account would make it very difficult to live so they aim to create a simple route of redress so no-one is unnecessarily penalised due to bureaucratic mistakes.
Officials have also been tasked to review private colleges sponsored by universities for whether courses are being exploited by migrants who came here illegally. There are also concerns that some foreign students at universities are doing significantly more hours in the black economy than the 20 a week allowed under visa rules.
The review will also examine how data on the immigration status of individuals could be used to check on undocumented migrants when they use schools or seek NHS treatment. Officials recognise such checks would have to be carried out sensitively.
The Home Office is also working with police chiefs to increase their role in enforcement such as cracking down on car washes operating illegally.
Bosses caught employing migrants without the right to work can face fines up to £20,000 per worker, a jail sentence of up to five years in the worst cases, closure of their business and disqualification as a director.