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EU to punish employers of undocumented workers

New Directive criminalises the employer, not the migrant. UK opts out

5th February 2009: European Parliament has approved a package that considerably toughens sanctions against employers of undocumented workers.

MEPs, however, postponed formalising their position until the next plenary session on 18th and 19th February. 

Under the Sanctions Directive, employers of illegal immigrants would be penalised while illegal immigrants would be granted legal conditions of employment.

MEPs are also calling for criminal law sanctions in the most serious cases and want to make companies responsible for the actions of their subcontractors.

It is estimated that there are between 4.5 and 8 million illegal immigrants in the EU, working in the construction, farming, hotel and other sectors. One of the factors encouraging illegal immigration into the EU is the possibility of finding work.

MEPs hope that this new legislation will help reduce that pull factor by targeting the employment of third-country nationals who are illegally staying in the EU.

The Sanctions Directive would introduce minimum penalties at European level against employers of illegal immigrants. Employers could be fined, forced to pay wages in arrears at legal levels or even banned for up to five years from bidding for public sector contracts or from receiving state aid – whether national or European.

Under the Directive, an employer found guilty of hiring illegal immigrants will have to refund any state aid received the previous year and pay a graduated fine according to the number of illegal immigrants employed. 

In addition, he must pay a sum equal to the amount of taxes and other levies he would have paid if the worker had been employed legally and, where applicable, the cost of returning the migrant.

Member States will be asked to establish lower financial penalties for people using clandestine immigrants as domestic staff, provided the working conditions are not exploitative.

They’ll also be asked to set up mechanisms to enable illegal immigrants to lodge complaints.

MEPs want third parties designated by Member States, such as voluntary bodies or trade unions, to be allowed to report a guilty employer without running the risk of being subsequently taken to court for assisting someone to stay in the country illegally.

Irregular immigrants who cooperate with the legal action against their employer will be given a temporary residence permit.

While supporting the general purpose of the draft directive as part of the wider fight against illegal immigration, the UK government has opted out of the legislation.

By Stephen Ogongo

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