Hire illegal immigrants and you may lose your job

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Company directors who hire illegal immigrants could be penalised under a "two strikes and you're out" policy being prepared by ministers.

The hardline proposals to deal with illegal immigrants would mean that business leaders could be dismissed and their firm's assets seized if they are found to be employing illegal workers.

The move would be designed to tackle the estimated 570,000 illegal immigrants in Britain, many of whom have jobs in construction, pubs and restaurants, and as seasonal fruit pickers. Company boards could be dismissed if two or more breaches of the law are discovered, under uncompromising plans being drawn up by the Home Office.

The Home Secretary, John Reid, faced embarrassment when it emerged that illegal immigrants from Nigeria were working as cleaners at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate in London. The latest plan, which was discussed at last Thursday's cabinet meeting, shows a more robust approach to tackling illegal immigration, and Mr Reid has abandoned earlier proposals for an amnesty for those working here illegally.

But any move to disqualify company directors is expected to be resisted by business leaders. David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, dismissed the plan as an "amazing admission of failure". "Until the public outrage over the Chinese cockle pickers, the Government had only prosecuted a handful of employers under existing legislation introduced by Michael Howard in 1996," he said. "Now they are saying business must be held responsible when really the problem is that they have lost control of this country's borders."

The proposals could mean that directors could also be struck off if their subcontractors employ illegal workers.