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Criminal Defence Articles

What is the penalty for helping an illegal immigrant in the UK?

The exact number of undocumented migrants (also known as an illegal immigrants) in the UK is not known, but it is believed to be somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000. Undocumented migrants are not allowed to work, they do not have the right to claim benefits, and the act of crossing the border without the proper documents is considered to be an offence. Helping an undocumented migrant to break immigration law is also an offence. This article considers the penalties that you could face for helping an undocumented migrant in the UK.

If you have been accused of an immigration related infringement, you may be wondering if you are facing a civil penalty or a criminal one. The answer to this is that there are a wide array of civil and criminal penalties relating to helping illegal immigrants in the UK. These range from serious criminal offences for trafficking people across borders to relatively minor civil infringements that can result in a fine. If you have been accused of an immigration offence, it helps to have an overview of the law in this area and get help from a specialist criminal defence solicitor to represent you if needed.

What is the offence of helping an illegal immigrant in the UK?

Helping an undocumented migrant breach immigration law is a criminal offence. It is prohibited to assist unlawful immigration under Section 25 Immigration Act 1971. This offence takes place where you help to facilitate a breach of UK immigration law by a person who is not a national (i.e. a citizen) of the UK.

Examples of this offence include:

  • Knowingly smuggling someone in a lorry
  • Allowing them to stay at your house whilst you are aware that they do not have valid leave to remain
  • Helping someone remain in the UK by deception, e.g. through entering a sham marriage with them
  • Helping someone breach the immigration law of an EU member state

This offence can be committed regardless of whether the attempted breach of immigration law actually takes place. Say for example you plan to help someone enter the UK illegally but they are apprehended at the border by Border Force. You could still be convicted for your role in trying to facilitate their unlawful entry to the UK.

Whilst the Immigration Act refers to the EU, of which the UK is no longer a part, this law is still in force. It will be amended at a future date by The Immigration, Nationality and Asylum (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. These make it clear that, in spite of Brexit, it remains an offence to help someone breach the law of an EU member state.

The maximum sentence for this offence is 14 years’ imprisonment. Aggravating features include if the offence has been committed repeatedly, financial gain by the offender, facilitation for strangers rather than family members, a high degree of planning, organisation and sophistication, and where a large number of illegal entrants are involved.

It is also an offence to assist people to gain entry to the UK for the purposes of gaining asylum. This is set out at Section 25A Immigration Act 1971.

What is the fine for bringing an illegal immigrant into the UK?

Knowingly facilitating the entry of an illegal immigrant into the UK is a criminal offence. However, what if you accidentally help a clandestine entrant cross the UK border because they have hidden in the back of your lorry? Whilst this is not a criminal offence, you could still face a civil penalty.

If you are a lorry driver and clandestine entrants hide inside your vehicle to avoid going through border control, you will receive a fine. You can be fined up to £2000 for each clandestine entrant you carry. This is not a criminal offence, but rather a civil penalty. It applies to all lorries and other vehicles arriving in the UK including from European sea ports and the Eurotunnel shuttle.

As always, prevention is best. To avoid a fine, you should:

  • Always ensure that you have properly secured your vehicle using padlock, seals, and a tilt cord
  • Check your vehicle thoroughly after each stop and before entering the UK
  • According to the UK government, if you suspect there is someone hiding in your vehicle, you should not go through UK border control. Instead you should contact the police in the country you are in or speak to border control at the port where they plan to board

If you have already passed through border control, and you suspect that there are clandestine entrants in your vehicle, the government advises avoiding approaching the migrants, and instead calling the police. The police will ask you for information in respect of the security system in place on your vehicle on that day to prevent people from boarding your vehicle. This information will be used to determine the level of the fine that will be levied against your organisation.

What are the consequences of employing an illegal immigrant?

Whilst you may feel that the immigration status of your employees is none of your business, as an employer, you could be held responsible if you hire someone who does not have the right to work in the UK. This is a criminal offence which is set out at Section 21 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006.

If you knowingly employ an illegal worker, or someone who you had ‘reasonable cause to believe’ did not have the right to work in the UK, you could be imprisoned for up to 5 years or be subjected to an unlimited fine. Reasonable cause to believe that a person does not have the right to work in the UK could include if you have a reason to believe that:

  • They did not have permission to enter or remain in the UK
  • Their leave had expired
  • They were not allowed to do certain types of work
  • Their papers were incorrect or false

However, the good news is that you or your business is only likely to be prosecuted if you have made a deliberate attempt to break the law by employing illegal immigrants or there is evidence of exploitative practices or attempts to evade the law e.g. by closing and reopening the business under a different name after receiving a civil fine.

Where a criminal prosecution is not appropriate, you could receive a civil penalty. For example, you could be held responsible if you did not do the correct checks to ensure that a person has the right to work, or you did not do the checks properly. In these circumstances, you could receive a civil penalty of up to £20,000 for each illegal worker. The details of your business could be published by immigration enforcement as a warning to other business owners. If you fail to pay the fine, enforcement action could be taken against you in the civil court. In addition, a specialist team within the Insolvency Service known as the Public Interest Unit disqualify company directors found to employ illegal immigrants, including those who have disbanded their previous company in order to avoid paying civil penalties for hiring undocumented migrants.

Are the UK Border Force police?

The UK Border Force is law enforcement however they do not fall under the control of the police. Instead, they are run by the Home Office and are accountable to the Home Secretary. They are responsible for immigration and customs controls for people and goods entering the UK. Border Force officers have the powers and duties of both customs officers and immigration officers. Their duties include:

  • Checking the immigration status of people arriving or leaving the UK
  • Searching bags, vehicles, and cargo for illicit goods or illegal immigrants
  • Conducting intelligence operations
  • Highlighting people of interest to the police and security services

In addition, according to the UK Borders Act 2007, Border Force officers are allowed to detain a person suspected of a criminal offence or pursuant to an arrest warrant if they think that a police officer would make an arrest. This power of detention lasts up to 3 hours.

They are also allowed to search the suspect. The Border Force must arrange for a police officer to attend as soon as reasonably possible and hand any items which have been seized over to them. If an individual whom a Border Force officer has detained or attempted to detain attempts to leave the port, the officer is entitled to pursue the individual and return them back to court. Like police officers, Border Force officers are entitled to use reasonable force in the course of their duties.

Where to get further help?

If you have fallen on the wrong side of the UK’s notoriously complex immigration laws, contact Stuart Miller Solicitors today. Our experienced team of criminal defence solicitors will advise you of the strength of the evidence against you, and we will help you to figure out the best way forward. We will guide you through the civil or criminal justice process in relation to immigration offences to help you obtain the best possible result. Contact us for a no obligation consultation.

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