The grocery giant Tesco is facing a hefty fine after a dawn raid by the UK Border Agency found it had been employing foreign students illegally.
Immigration officials have arrested 20 people at the supermarket’s dotcom warehouse in south London for working substantially longer than they were allowed.
In full co-operation with Tesco, UKBA officers conducted the raid at 3am on 21 July at the grocer’s facility in Croydon, which delivers online orders from Tesco.com. The investigation follows a renewed effort by the Government to clamp down on “visa abuse”, which has seen more than 2,000 offenders removed since the beginning of May.
A Home Office spokesman said the individuals arrested at Tesco’s warehouse “now face removal from the UK” over alleged breaches of visa rules that restrict the hours students can work. It is thought that at least seven of the students have been deported since the raid.
While the university students, who are thought to be primarily Indian and Bangladeshi nationals aged over 18, all had the right to work in the UK, they had had been working for between 50 and 70 hours during school term. Foreign students are only allowed to work 20 hours a week.
Tesco has been issued with a “notification of potential liability”. The UKBA is now considering whether to issue the grocery with a notification of liability. This could lead to fines of up to £10,000 per illegal worker and a total bill for Tesco of as much as £200,000. The UKBA spokesperson said: “The employer now needs to provide evidence that it was carrying out the legally required checks to avoid a fine.” It is understood that an additional 15 students remain under investigation, but the Home Office would only say, “ongoing lines of inquiry are being followed up”.
A Tesco spokesperson said: “We take our responsibilities as an employer very seriously and do not condone illegal working of any kind.” He added: “We have a comprehensive system for ensuring all the correct procedures are followed in this area which has been externally audited and generally works well. We have now taken additional steps to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again.”
However, any fine is hardly to put much of a dent in the coffers of Tesco, which has operations in 14 countries. The UK grocery market leader made pre-tax profits £3.9bn last year, on sales of £72bn.