Northern Ireland businesses fined £1.3m for employing illegal workers
Businesses across Northern Ireland were fined £1.36m for employing illegal workers over the last three years.
New figures obtained by investigative news website The Detail show 66 businesses were fined for employing 118 illegal workers between 2016 and 2018.
Most of the immigration raids were carried out in the restaurant and takeaway trade.
Businesses can be fined up to £20,000 for employing a member of staff who is found to be in the UK illegally and for failing to check their immigration status.
Around 80% of businesses fined for illegal working during this period were in the restaurant, hotel and leisure sector.
Home Office figures for Northern Ireland show that immigration compliance and enforcement teams (ICE) carried out 137 immigration raids on business between 2016 and 2018. This led to 162 people being arrested but it is not clear how many of these people were removed from Northern Ireland.
Danny Wong, chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Chinese Welfare Association in Northern Ireland, told The Detail there was a sense among his community that certain businesses or nationalities were seen as easy targets.
“There should be a more level playing field when it comes to illegal working raids and the type of businesses and nationalities targeted," he said.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Immigration abuse in the restaurant sector is widespread and persistent as the nature of the roles available suit low skilled immigration offenders.
"This sector presents a significant threat from illegal working and it is right that a large proportion of our operational activity should be targeted to prevent it.”
The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, David Bolt, recently called on the Home Office to diversify illegal working operations beyond its "concentration" on restaurants and takeaways and "removable" nationalities.
In a report published earlier this year, Mr Bolt found that 44% of all businesses visited by ICE teams across the UK between April 2015 and August 2018 were restaurants and fast-food outlets.
In his report Mr Bolt found that Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani and Chinese nationals made up almost two-thirds (63%) of all illegal working arrests during this period.
There is no firm estimates of how many people are illegally working in Northern Ireland.
However, in 2015 the UK government estimated there were between 190,000 and 240,000 businesses employing illegal works in the UK.
Belfast Telegraph Digital