The Home Office faces the ultimate embarrassment as five illegal workers were caught cleaning the offices of the immigration service.
In a farcical twist to the Government's immigration crisis, the group of Nigerians was in police custody after a raid on the London premises of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND), which is run by the Home Office.
Channel 4 News reported that a contract cleaning company supplied the staff for Beckett House, near London Bridge, from where IND officials direct operations to find and deport illegal immigrants.
The arrests came just days after Dave Roberts, a senior IND official, said he did not have the "faintest idea" how many illegal immigrants were in Britain.
The revelation of illegal workers in the Home Office premises is a new blow to efforts by John Reid, the Home Secretary, to get a grip on the turmoil in his department.
Damian Green, the Tory immigration spokesman, said: "We know the immigration department is in chaos and hopeless ... Every government in decay gets to a stage where you don't know whether to laugh or cry and I think this government has today reached that stage."
Mr Roberts told MPs this week that people who stayed in Britain after their visas ran out were not pursued by IND as "individuals". Instead, the strategy was to target larger numbers of failed asylum-seekers who were working for the same employer. The Department for Work and Pensions has also admitted that between 200,000 and 300,000 national insurance numbers were issued to foreigners each year, with immigration checks only carried out on a few thousand of them.
Under legislation coming into effect later this year, employers will be obliged to verify that recruits are in the country legitimately, with a potential fine of £2,000 for each illegal immigrant they hire.
A Home Office spokesman said: "These individuals were the employees of a firm contracted to provide cleaning services. It is policy that all employees and contracted employees working in Immigration and Nationality Directorate buildings have security and employment checks carried out, which include checks on their immigration status.
"Of course, we will investigate further and appropriate action will be taken as necessary."
Only a handful of employers have been prosecuted in recent years for taking on illegal immigrants.
John Denham, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee to which Home Office officials gave evidence this week, has warned: "I suspect unless we get after people making money out of [illegal immigration], including some very respectable household names, we will not make progress."
The Government has been fighting to draw a line under the crisis triggered by the announcement that 1,023 convicted foreign criminals were freed without deportation hearings.Reuse content