24th Sep 2020

EU companies to face tough sanctions for hiring illegal migrants

  • The agriculture sector in southern Italy was cited as a bad example (Photo: European Commission)

As part of efforts to halt the rising flow of illegal immigrants to EU territory, Brussels has drafted a law suggesting that all employers who hire undocumented entrants should be sanctioned with fines and in some cases with criminal charges.

"Europe is no longer tolerating black labour of immigrants", EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini stated after his proposal was unanimously okayed by the whole college of commissioners on Wednesday (16 May).

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"Illegal migrants will continue coming to the EU countries while it is easy to find an illegal job", Mr Frattini added, citing his native Italy as one bad example. "There is real recruitment into agriculture in the south of Italy every autumn, with exploitation in a very inhuman style".

Under the proposal, employers hiring an undocumented third-country worker will face fines, loss of public contracts and subsidies. They will also have to pay costs for the migrant's return, outstanding wages, taxes and social contributions.

Criminal penalties could also be triggered, according to the commission paper, if a company hires illegal workers three times in two years, if it offers particularly exploitative conditions and if it recruits a victim of human trafficking.

According to Brussels, the tough piece of draft legislation would enhance the protection of the fundamental rights as well as of fair competition within the EU's single market.

Currently, there are up to eight million people illegally staying in the 27-nation bloc, while seven to sixteen percent of the union's GDP comes from the shadow economy - with the situation being worst in sectors such as construction, agriculture, cleaning and hotel-catering.

That is why Brussels argues it is necessary to punish not only offending companies, but also private individuals acting as employers, for example those who hire undocumented nannies, house-keepers or construction-workers to build private houses.

"We should sanction all who employ under slavery-like conditions, regardless of their legal status", Italy's commissioner said.

Only employers able to prove they undertook a thorough pre-recruitment check of a migrant's permit to stay in the EU country will avoid penalties.

Member states' turn

However, the commission's paper stops short of setting a precise level of fines and criminal charges, with Mr Frattini saying he has "recognised concerns of various member states".

"We [the European Commission] have preferred to allow flexibility", the EU home affairs commissioner said, although he underlined "we have the power to adopt minimum criminal penalties at European level".

The possibility for Brussels to move into criminal matters was triggered by a landmark ruling on environmental crimes by the European Court of Justice in September 2005, which gave Brussels power to introduce harmonized criminal laws across the EU.

The court stated that it is up to the commission to decide on penal measures in order to make community legislation effective.

Currently, 19 out 27 EU member states have criminal penalties against those who employ illegal entrants in place, but Brussels argues that "similar penalties" would be more effective.

"There will be a common basis", Italy's commissioner predicted, expressing confidence his package will gain "unanimous consensus" without major difficulties.

"Member states which are traditionally reluctant towards accepting European criminal sanctions will keep their current special treatment", he explained, referring to the fact that Denmark does not participate in EU justice and home affairs issues, while the UK and Ireland will have six months to decide whether they come on board or stay out.

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