Working Rights of Legal and Illegal Immigrants in the UK

07 Jul 2022 - Category: Blog /
working rights

Moving to the United Kingdom can be a fantastic opportunity and the chance to build a new home and career. However, many people moving from nation to nation do not fully understand their legal rights. Some genuinely believe they have no access to any public services or legal rights, but this is certainly not the case.

Your rights as a human being are protected in all countries. It is important to understand your rights if you work in the United Kingdom as a legal or illegal immigrant. Let's first define the difference between legal and illegal immigrants according to UK law.

Illegal immigrant is the term for anyone who does not have the right to stay in the UK. It also covers people who may have had their right to remain in the country revoked, expired or not been renewed. Legal immigrants have the necessary documentation and legal permissions to remain in the UK, often with the ability to work and access a range of social welfare services.

Below we're going to look more closely at:

  • An employer's obligation to check on an employee's right to work
  • The impact of human rights law on legal and illegal immigrants in the UK
  • The impact of Brexit on immigrant workers in the UK
  • The rights of legal immigrant workers in the UK

An employer's obligation to check on an employee's right to work

All employers in the UK are legally required to verify the work permit documentation of their employees. An employer failing to do this and, therefore, hiring someone who is not authorised to work in the UK could end up in serious trouble.

The problems start with what's known as a Referral Notice. This notice lets you know your case is being considered, and you may have to pay a civil penalty of up to £20,000 per illegal worker. The only way of avoiding this for the employer is to prove they fully checked their applicant's right to work before hiring.

Employers found to be hiring illegal workers face further repercussions that are even more serious. In addition to the civil penalty, criminal charges may also be brought. The employer may face an unlimited fine or imprisonment of up to five years.

Finding a defence in this situation can be tricky, and employers would have to plead that they had fully checked their applicant's right to work. If an employer believes they have employed someone legally and it turns out not to be the case, he has not acted contrary to law. He is obliged to treat the worker as any other legal immigrant as their paperwork (even if fraudulent) has given them this information.

The impact of human rights law on legal and illegal immigrants in the UK

UK law is designed to protect the rights of all workers, including immigrants. There have been multiple cases of modern slavery and examples of immigrants being exploited. The law is in place for their protection, as much as the UK safeguarding its interests. Illegal immigrants may not have employment or the right to stay in the UK, but they are protected by human rights legislation.

The rights of illegal immigrants in the UK are mostly governed by the Human Rights Act (1998). This act includes an article (Article 2) which states the right to life, irrespective of your legal status in any given country. Article 3 of the Act protects people from torture or inferior or disgraceful treatment. Not holding the correct work permit is not grounds for treating an individual inhumanely.

The Human Rights Act also protects all people from slavery and forced labour and the right to a fair trial. This is all-encompassing and not limited to legal immigrants. Therefore, even illegal immigrants in the UK have a degree of protection and cannot be forced into compromising or dangerous permissions.

The impact of Brexit on immigrant workers in the UK

The transition period of the UK leaving the EU ended on 31st December 2020. Since then, the rights of immigrant workers in the UK have changed, when referring to workers from EU member states at least. However, EU nationals and their qualifying family members already resident and working in the UK were given the right to continue living and working as they had before. Individuals in this category needed to apply for UK immigration status under the EU Settlement Scheme by 30th June 2021. Not having this status is a risk and can impact whether you can access vital services such as banking, the NHS, employment and the ability to rent a home.

To work in the UK after Brexit has additional requirements for people wanting to come to the country for the first time. The UK has introduced a points-based system as of 1st January 2021, which means new EU nationals will be subject to a similar system as non-EU nationals.

EU nationals coming to the UK now require a UK visa which permits them to work. The type of visa you need will depend on your individual and your employer's circumstances. EU citizens' right to work in the UK after Brexit is much like any other nation. There are different work visa categories, including the Skilled Worker visa, Health and Care visa and Global Talent visa. They all have their own requirements.

The rights of legal immigrant workers in the UK

Immigrants with the right work permit or visa status have cover from the same labour and employment laws as any British citizen. You are entitled to the same work rights as UK workers, including receiving payslips, tax deductions and national minimum wage.

The situation for illegal immigrant workers is less clear cut. Finding an employer means finding someone willing to break UK law and risk imprisonment. Unfortunately, many illegal immigrants find themselves exploited, unable to find safe accommodation or settle without fear and stress. Exploiting the laws in the UK is never recommended, and getting help and support from an immigration charity or legal advisor may help you legalise your work status and right to stay.

Working and Living in the UK

Moving to the UK can be a fantastic experience, but it is important to do it legally. Over time it may even be possible to apply for British nationality, or you can simply enjoy your time in the UK and keep your options open for moving elsewhere.

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