There has been a spotlight in the press recently regarding illegal workers with employers facing prosecution and substantial fines. Jennifer Orr provides key information which employers in Northern Ireland should be aware of when recruiting migrant workers to their workforce.

Migrant workers have become an increasingly visible working group in Northern Ireland. Despite a long history of registering workers there appears to be uncertainty as to if any registration is currently required for workers of EU member states. Whilst employers are aware of the limitations regarding the right to work in the province for workers from countries outside the EU, there has been a certain leniency for those from within EU. This is unfortunately where local employers can fall foul of their obligations.

For example, workers from Bulgaria and Romania are still required to be registered to work in the UK. This requires the employer to apply for a work permit through the Home Office. Once this application has been approved then the worker has to register for an accession card. There are certain exemptions whereby work permit is not require these are:-

• Airport based operational ground staff of an overseas airline;
• “Au pair” placements;
• Domestic workers in a private household;
• Ministers of religion, missionaries or members of a religious order;
• Overseas government employment;
• Postgraduate doctors, dentists and trainee general practitioners;
• Private servants in a diplomatic household;
• Representatives of an overseas newspaper, news agency or broadcasting organisation;
• Sole representatives;
• Teachers or language assistants;
• Overseas qualified nurses coming for a period of supervised practice; and
• Voluntary workers.

Other Exemptions are

• The Bulgarian or Romanian nationals are coming to the UK under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS), and hold a valid work card issued by a SAWS operator; or
• They were given permission to enter or remain in the UK before 1 January 2007, and their passport has been endorsed with a condition restricting your employment to a particular employer or category of employment. If this permission to enter or remain expires before you qualify to be exempt from work authorisation requirements, or you wish to engage in employment other than the job for which the leave was granted, you will need to obtain an accession worker card.

If found working illegally employees face an on the spot fine of £1,000 or prosecution and either a £5000 fine and/or 3 months imprisonment. An employer could face prosecution and a £5000 fine. An employer who employs Romanians or Bulgarians working illegally will be liable to prosecution in a Magistrates court under the Accession (Immigration and Worker Authorisation) Regulations 2006. On conviction, the employer will be liable for a fine of up to £5,000. If the fine is not paid, the court can use bailiffs to seize goods and sell them. Alternatively, they can order the employer to be sent to prison.

For any more information or assistance on the issues above, then please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2786.