Brussels proposes a crackdown on employers hiring illegal immigrants

BRUSSELS (AFP) – European employers hiring black-market workers could face sanctions ranging from fines to jail terms under a proposal made yesterday by the European Commission aimed at curbing illegal immigration. The proposal, which must be endorsed by a majority of the 27 EU countries, would also make employers liable for lost wages, taxes and social security and could disqualify them from competing for public contracts. The measures would be a minimum requirement across the bloc. At present all member states, apart from Cyprus, have laws against black-market labor but only 19 impose criminal penalties. The application of such laws also varies widely within the countries – where little action is taken in Britain, to the Netherlands where harsh penalties are imposed. The Commission’s proposal aims to reduce a «pull factor» for illegal immigration «targeting the employment of third-country nationals who are illegally staying in the EU.» The measures are aimed at employers and not workers. Exploitation Such «workers are exploited; they are underpaid; they don’t have access to social rights, to education and so on. They live in very poor and desperate conditions,» said EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini. As a preventive step, the measures would oblige employers recruiting someone from outside the EU to check their residence permit or other papers and notify their national authorities that they are hiring the person. Those who fail to do so could be fined, including the cost of sending an illegal immigrant home, being forced to pay outstanding wages, taxes and social costs and could lose public subsidies or the right to tender for up to five years. Frattini said some member states had longstanding concerns about the EU setting penalties they would have to enforce, so each country will be free to set the amount of fines and the length of jail terms. He noted that, on average, only 2.8 percent of companies in each European Union country are currently checked annually for illegal immigrants. «That means there are practically no controls at all. Our goal is to increase (the controls) up to 10 percent at least,» he said. «We will have a new tool to monitor and to guarantee the proper implementation.» Between 4 to 8 million people are estimated to be living illegally in the EU, with 500,000 illegal immigrants arriving every year. Britain, Ireland and the Czech Republic are expected to put up the most resistance to the proposals, which must be passed by a qualified majority of member nations in consultation with the European Parliament. Under the EU rules, Britain and Ireland can choose to not to apply the new measures, while Denmark has a permanent opt-out in the immigration and asylum domain. Twelve people, among them police, were injured yesterday when a riot broke out at a center for illegal immigrants in northwestern Turkey, the Anatolia news agency reported. The nearly 400 illegal immigrants at the center in Kirklareli province, on the border with Bulgaria, clashed first among themselves and then with police on the grounds that they had been waiting to be deported for six months. The fight left five officers and seven Somalis injured.