'No figures' on illegals caught at Home Office
By Ben Leapman, Home Affairs Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 11:54pm GMT 25/11/2006
The Home Office has confessed it does not know how many illegal immigrants have been caught in its own workforce.
The admission sparked anger from business leaders, who face fines or even imprisonment if they employ illegal migrants from next year under a clampdown introduced by John Reid, the Home Secretary. Public sector employers are exempt from the new law.
In May, five illegal immigrants from Nigeria were found working as Home Office cleaners.
The failure by ministers to keep a count of such cases will fuel suspicions that others have been dealt with quietly, to avoid political embarrassment.
Asked in Parliament how many migrants had been caught working illegally for the Home Office since 2001, Liam Byrne, the Immigration Minister, said he could not give a figure. The Home Office, which has 70,000 employees, later said each of its units, including the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and the Prison Service, kept separate records which were not submitted to ministers.
John Hayes, the Tory MP who asked the question, said: “The Home Office may not know how many illegal migrants are still working for it, but it's appalling that it doesn't seem to know how many have been identified.
“The public have a right to know that people funded by taxpayers' money are proper, legal workers.”
Under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, which takes effect next year, companies will be fined 2,000 for each illegal immigrant they employ. Bosses who knowingly employ illegal workers may face two years in jail.
If that fails, ministers may also be prepared to strike off company directors who employ illegal labour.
David Frost, the director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “If we are serious about clamping down on illegals, we all need to work together not just take the easy option of pointing the finger at business.”
A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses said: “The Home Office has a massive personnel department; if even they can't keep track, what chance has a small business got? It seems unfair that a small firm which makes an honest mistake should be hammered for it.”