UK Government Embarrassment – Immigration Minister resigns over cleaner’s visa

Immigration Minister Mark Harper, who is a strong advocate for the Immigration Bill that is going through parliament, has resigned from the UK Government. The reason why: in 2007 he employed a cleaner who did not have permission to work in the UK.

As we have mentioned in previous articles the Immigration Bill proposes, amongst many other proposals, that all private landlords will have to check the immigration status of proposed tenants and will be at risk of a financial penalty for not doing so. The Bill also proposes the penalty for failing to check an employee’s immigration status to rise to the maximum of £20,000.

In 2007 when the former Immigration Minister employed the said cleaner who did not have the right to work in the UK the law in force at that time was the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. Section 8 of the Act made it a criminal offence of employing a person who did not have permission to work in the UK. There is however contained in subsection 2 a statutory defence, for if the document confirming the permission to work was produced to the employer and that the employer retained a copy or a record of the document.

This is where Mark Harper could potentially be in trouble. He now says that after an ‘extensive search’, ‘unfortunately I was unable to locate them’. As he has no record of the document it is harder to meet the requirements of the statutory defence. It would therefore have to be a matter for the Magistrates Court; if a magistrate accepts his word as good evidence then he establishes a statutory defence and is not liable. If however a magistrate does not accept his word as good evidence then he could be fined up to £5,000.

The current law, the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, makes it a criminal offence for ‘knowingly’ employing a person without permission to work. The Act also contains a civil penalty provision, where if the employer does not make the necessary checks and records then s/he would be liable to a penalty of £5,000. Under the law in force at the current time, the former Immigration Minister would almost certainly be liable and receive a penalty of £5,000.

It will be interesting to see the back-lash to the former Immigration Minister’s resignation for employing a person who has no permission to work in the UK, as it appears that even he, as an Immigration Minister pushing through a controversial Immigration Bill, was unaware of the immigration laws of the country.

This case is not the first in the British history. In 2009 the Attorney General Baroness Scotland was fined £5,000 after being found to have employed a housekeeper who was not legally allowed to work in the UK. In 2004 the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, resigned amid accusations that he used his position to fast-track a visa application for his ex-lover’s nanny.

As we know, ignorance of the law is no excuse or defence. Therefore it is highly embarrassing for the Government that their own Immigration Minister was so ignorant of his own laws. Indeed he was pushing for immigration laws to be toughened and as such should take responsibility for his actions.

Posted on Feb 09, 2014.

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