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Volume 467: debated on Thursday 22 November 2007

I am today launching the next stage in the Government’s comprehensive programme of reform of Britain’s immigration controls.

Britain’s economy and society profit from migration that is effectively managed and controlled. But our system must change if it is to be fit for the future. Over the next 12 months, we will be introducing fundamental changes. These include:

The points-based system, which will enable us better to manage economic migration. Our points policy will be advised by a Migration Advisory Committee, which will help us make better informed decisions about the migrants our economy needs, and a Migration Impact Forum, which will help us analyse the wider effects of migration;

A Single Border Force, bringing together the Border and Immigration Agency, Customs and UK Visas. This will provide tougher policing at ports and airports with a highly visible, uniformed presence, counting all migrants in and out of the UK;

The introduction of compulsory identity cards for foreign nationals, helping us to know who is here and what they are entitled to do.

If we are to stop illegal journeys, however we must stop illegal jobs. Our attack on illegal working therefore attacks the root cause of illegal immigration into Britain.

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement on transforming our border strategy last week I am today announcing action on a further three key parts of our strategy on illegal working.

First, I am publishing a Statement of Intent setting out our approach towards licensing employers or colleges wishing to sponsor migrants for visa applications.

Under the points-based system, employers, and others who benefit from migration and wish to act as sponsors of skilled or temporary migrants, will need a licence to do so. To earn and hold a licence they must agree to fulfil certain duties. Today’s Statement of Intent sets out how a would-be sponsor can gain a licence, and what duties we will ask them to perform. We have developed this document working closely with employers’ representatives and others to strengthen the Border and Immigration Agency’s control of the system.

We are publishing this document today so that those affected can prepare. We are also giving people the opportunity to comment on them. Our proposals may of course change before we finally launch the system. We will give businesses and others the opportunity to apply for sponsorship licences from early 2008.

Secondly, I am publishing today the results of the consultation on the new measures to prevent illegal working in the UK, and the action I now propose to take.

The consultation set out a new system of civil penalties and a tough new criminal offence for those who knowingly employ illegal workers. As a result I propose that the maximum level of penalty should be £10,000 per illegal worker.

The penalty measures we are introducing will provide a more effective means of encouraging employers to carry out proper checks and of dealing with non-compliance.

The results report is available on the Border and Immigration Agency website at: and copies of the report have also been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

I am also laying revised codes of practice for employers and the necessary regulations to bring sections 15 to 26 of the 2006 Act into force on 29 February next year, including an order for the approval of each House setting the maximum level of civil penalty that may be imposed for employing an illegal worker.

Thirdly, I am taking steps to raise employers’ awareness of these changes and to provide support arrangements.

Employers will need to know how the changes we are making under the points-based system and the new civil penalty regime will affect recruitment and employment practices.

National press advertising will commence immediately, to be followed in January with further advertising in the national press, trade press and on national radio, and direct marketing to employers in relevant sectors.

BIA has now enhanced the verification service for employers I announced in May by broadening the range of categories covered by the service.

Finally, the phased introduction of identity cards for foreign nationals will provide the opportunity to develop employer verification services still further and phase out insecure twentieth century documentation from the checking regime. I will bring forward proposals shortly on the roll-out of mandatory identity cards for foreign nationals.