9 Feb 2014

Did former immigration minister do all he could to check cleaner’s status?

Mark Harper’s resignation has it would seems brought nothing but good reviews.
The prime minister praised the former immigration minister’s decision as ‘”the honorable thing to do”, and MPs have lauded his integrity of his decision.

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But immigration lawyers have been picking through Mr Harper’s letter, in pursuit of an answer to the question of whether he has or has not complied with the law?

It states he took copies of passport and a Home Office letter, but six years on couldn’t find them.
Colin Yeo , an immigration barrister, points out that the Home Office guidance states: “You should then keep a record of every document you have copied.
“By doing this the Immigration Service will be able to examine your right to the defence if they detect anyone working illegally for you.”
Mr Yeo goes on to say an onus is on Mr Harper to show he did indeed copy and retain the said documents.
In fact Baroness Scotland, when the government’s top law officer in 2009, fell foul of that very guidance on being faced with a similar sequence of events and ended up fined £5,000 for employing a cleaner whose student visa had expired four years earlier.
The then Border Agency made clear ignorance was no defence, if there was a failure to keep copies of the relevant paperwork.
Mr Harper has been at pains to distance himself from being an employer, and simply defines the working relationship with his now ex-cleaner as some form of “contract for services'”.
Does that absolve him of any further responsibility and so avoiding any penalty?
Mr Yeo believes the former minister could still be fined under the Immigration Act 2006 states “a reference to employment is to employment under a contract of service or apprenticeship, whether express or implied and whether oral or written.”
Downing Street was at pains to point out that Mr Harper did not knowingly employ(sic) an illegal immigrant.
No-one is suggesting he did but how far did his checks go in the past seven years.
For throughout that time,  there has always been the immigration “helpline” set up in 2006 to help all those potentially at risk of civil penalties.
Mr Harper does not, from his letter, appear to have availed himself of this free advice service.
Maybe a clearer picture might emerge if the woman was allowed to give her side of the story.
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