Number of arrests for illegal working rockets

The rate of arrests for illegal working in the construction industry more than doubled in 2023 amid a government crackdown on immigration, Construction News can reveal.

Meanwhile, migrant charities warned that the rising number of immigration raids risks endangering potentially exploited workers on construction sites.

The Home Office arrested 214 individuals last year for illegally working in the construction industry, up from 82 in 2022 – an increase of 161 per cent, according to data revealed under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The arrests resulted from 141 immigration enforcement visits – far more than the 57 raids carried out in 2022. The 147 per cent rise compares with an increase of more than 68 per cent across all industries in the past year, according to government figures.

The Home Office issued 16 civil penalties last year, worth £230,000 in total. The figure may change, as civil penalties can be reduced by 30 per cent on appeal.

CN has approached the Home Office for further comment on the FOI data.

Adis Sehic, senior policy and research officer at employment rights charity Work Rights Centre, said that despite a “blip” during the Covid pandemic, strong immigration enforcement has been a consistent feature over the past eight or nine years.

He warned that raids focused on immigration do not help exploited workers, who are often manipulated by sponsors.

Sehic told CN: “We believe that clamping down on labour-market offences is a valuable activity in its own right, but that work should be delinked from the Home Office.”

Since 2016, the year the UK voted to leave the European Union, the Home Office has carried out 908 immigration raids in the construction industry, arresting 1,269 people.

Immigration enforcement peaked in 2019, with 408 arrested during 323 raids, before dipping in 2020 to 51 arrests from 52 enforcement visits.

Justine Carter, director of modern slavery charity Unseen UK, warned that two recently passed pieces of legislation – the 2022 Nationality and Borders Act and 2023 Illegal Migration Act – had created barriers to supporting exploited migrant workers.

She said: “It’s making it harder for victims to come forward and tell their story, and for us to go after the people we really need to target.”

Carter, whose charity runs a helpline for victims of modern slavery, told CN that the organisation was receiving more calls from people too scared to call the authorities because they feared deportation.

She said: “All of this is used as a way of maintaining control over people in vulnerable situations.”

Carter added that the amount of subcontracting in the construction industry makes it harder for large businesses to know who is working on their sites.

In April, subcontractor FP McCann was cleared of any wrongdoing after inspectors found five contractors working illegally during an immigration raid at the £600m Shotton Mill redevelopment site in Flintshire, North Wales.

The previous month, police had arrested 13 people after a raid.

The Home Office did not respond to multiple requests for information on the workers’ fate, although other media outlets reported that the labourers – 12 men and one woman – would be removed from the UK.

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