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A Stronger Deterrent or Something More Sinister?

In August, the Home Secretary unveiled a significant increase in fines for employers and landlords who hire illegal migrants or rent properties to them. This move, touted as the most substantial overhaul of civil penalties since 2014, seems to be passing unnoticed by the opposition.

Under the new regulations, employers found to be employing illegal workers will now face fines of up to £45,000 for a first breach, a dramatic increase from the previous £15,000. Repeat breaches could cost employers up to £60,000, compared to the previous £20,000. Landlords, too, will not escape the financial penalty, with fines increasing from £80 per lodger and £1,000 per occupier for a first breach to up to £5,000 per lodger and £10,000 per occupier. Repeat breaches could be as high as £10,000 per lodger and £20,000 per occupier, up from £500 and £3,000, respectively. These escalated penalties are set to take effect from January 2024.

However, a critical question arises: Why?

Will these punitive fines genuinely serve as a deterrent, or will they lead to unintended(?) consequences?

One immediate consequence is that anxious employers and landlords might choose to terminate the employment or rental agreements of individuals who have legal rights to work and reside in the UK, instead of risking substantial fines. This legislation appears to create an environment of fear, which has a negative impact on law-abiding workers and tenants. It also represents a shift of national security responsibilities onto employers, landlords, and the general public.

'Eviction Notice': Photo by Allan Vega, Unsplash
Photo by Allan Vega, Unsplash

The government argues that this crackdown is necessary to discourage illegal small boat crossings and disrupt the activities of human traffickers. But how does this make a difference? A £15,000 fine is already a massive deterrent. The government states that by making illegal working and renting less attractive, the hope is to reduce the incentives for migrants attempting dangerous journeys across the Channel.

While the government invents ever more extreme policies, these fines will not address the root causes of illegal migration and will instead exacerbate the problems facing legal workers. The Home Office points out that people smugglers often entice migrants with promises of employment and housing. So these fines levied on British employers and landlords will somehow stop the smugglers from telling porkies because they are concerned that the migrants may have their dreams of a promised land shattered? I don’t think so. It won’t stop the crossings.

Instead the increased fines will lead to a culture of over-vigilance, where employers and landlords are overly cautious, potentially refusing or firing individuals who are in need of and have the right to employment or housing.

So the question remains: Is this legislative move primarily about preventing employers from hiring illegally, or is the aim to cause nervous employers to fire legally working employees rather than take the risk of such high fines?

And let's be clear. It’s brown skinned migrants that this is aimed at. In the first 2 years after Britain opened its doors to Eastern Europe, there were half a million European immigrants. With the war in Ukraine, we have welcomed another 200,000 Ukrainians and thrown every available resource at them. It goes without saying - but I will spell it out for those who would twist this around - that I’m not suggesting we treat Ukrainians refugees (automatically conferred) as badly as we treat brown skinned people. That would be inhumane. But how about we treat brown skinned asylum seekers and refugees equally well. After all, they have often endured even more total and more prolonged warfare in their homelands as well as horrific deprivations during their voyages to the UK - the country that bears much responsibility for artificially creating the borders and systems which have caused them to leave their homes in the first place.

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