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Immigration and Social Security Bill: Committee Stage Briefing on NC15: Illegal Working


Illegal Working – EEA & Swiss Nationals

To move the following Clause –

“Illegal Working EEA and Swiss Nationals
Section 24B of the Immigration Act 1971 does not apply to any work undertaken by an EEA or Swiss national.”


This new clause would limit the offence of illegal working so that it did not apply to EEA or Swiss nationals.


JCWI supports this amendment. The criminalisation of work for undocumented migrants is one of the most pernicious aspects of the government’s Hostile Environment approach to immigration control, introduced in the Immigration Act 2016. The offence of illegal working applies to migrants found to be working without a valid legal status, or when their visa conditions ban them from working, or working hours beyond those permitted by their visa. The penalty carries a maximum custodial sentence of six months and a fine of the statutory maximum, which allows any wages paid to an illegal worker to be seized as the proceeds of crime.

Undocumented migrants are currently subject to “No Recourse to Public Funds” conditions and as a result often rely on informal jobs to survive and to provide for their families - some of whom may have been born in the UK or are entitled to live here, including children. This can lead to situations of abuse and dependency, as well as instances of survival sex, destitution, homelessness, and starvation. Undocumented migrants who do find work despite the prohibition are forced to look for work among the most unscrupulous and exploitative of employers. They are often underpaid or unpaid, forced to work extremely long hours and denied all workplace health and safety protections. As much of this work must be carried out cash-in-hand, the state is also denied the potential income from legal income that could be taxed, allowing undocumented migrants to make a greater contribution.

The current crisis has thrown into sharp relief the risks that are spread throughout society when workers are denied health and safety protections, forced to work without being able to claim sick pay or benefits and are unable to afford safe and secure housing.
In order for people to report abuse and exploitation at work, they must be able to trust that they will not risk arrest or detention for immigration offences. A firewall between labour inspection services and immigration enforcement is urgently needed. This would allow migrants who are exploited to report abusive employers without fearing that they will become the victims of enforcement.

Repealing the offence of illegal working is the first step towards tackling endemic exploitation and abuse in our labour market, and protecting the dignity of all workers.

Case Study

Anjay* a recognised Tamil refugee was living undocumented in the UK for several years before he was able to get the legal representation he needed to be recognised by the Home Office. During this time, he worked informally, providing essential goods and services. Whilst he is now safe, he has many friends who continue to work in these exact conditions throughout the pandemic. Indeed, the crisis has made them more desperate to work, as their families face increased financial hardship due to Covid-19.

“We were hired because we are not entitled to sick pay. And we’re desperate to help and save our families. We have to work to make a living. Being a sensible, responsible and practical person – risking everything and tolerating all the exploitation is the only way to survival if you are classified as illegal or failed asylum seeker.

“After the first months, the agents who had got me the job in the shop started taking my salary, so I was unable to pay the rent and was evicted from my accommodation. I was homeless, but I was working at the shop from 4am to 4pm. I would roam around until it was dark to sleep at the bus stop.

“Eventually, I explained that I wasn’t seeing any of my salary and the shop owner’s wife gave me £20 every week from my salary. At this point I was fortunate when one Indian man offered me to a place above a restaurant to sleep.

“I was told that I had to work as a cleaner at the restaurant in exchange for staying in that place. My cleaning shift was from 6pm to 2am every day. For about 9 months I survived like that. Food, you get to eat from the leftovers from the restaurant. Well, the more interesting bit was there were 21 or 22 people sleeping in the two-bedroom flat above the restaurant at that time.

“I would spend £1 every day to buy 2-for-£1 boost to keep me going until I would get to eat at the restaurant. I came down with chickenpox that summer and everything crashed – I was forced to leave the restaurant and eventually the shop. Behold, back to the streets.

“I got work in a petrol station, cleaning and filling cars. They promised to pay £100 per week for 7 days’ work 7-10 hours with food and accommodation. But after 2 months I had to run away from that place because I never got paid, I was restricted from getting more than one sandwich, one packet of crisps and one drink per day.

“At the next job in a late-night shop one night there was a client who misbehaved, he attacked me and I got stabbed. I called the owner, but they told me to leave. They warned me never to go to hospital because he will be in trouble for employing me as I was illegal, and he warned me I would be sent back home if I go to hospital because the police will be involved.”

For more information please contact:
Zoe Gardner Policy Adviser, JCWI [email protected] - 0207 553 7463

Minnie Rahman Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager, JCWI [email protected] - 0207 553 7463