Have Byron Burger done anything wrong?


The Home Office raid at Byron Burgers has caused huge controversy. As an immigration lawyer I cannot profess to be shocked at what has occurred - the Home Office have always targeted businesses in this manner (for example, Operation Magnify is a special Home Office task force that targets the construction industry specifically). 

What does surprise me is public reaction to the incident. Little specific information has been released but what we know is that the Home Office had intelligence that there were a number of individuals, who had false documents and/or no right to work in the UK, who were working for Byron Burgers. The Home Office required the cooperation of the retailer (and probably told Byron that if they did not comply they would be heavily penalised for breaching the law). Unsurprisingly, Byron Burgers complied. 

Taken at its simplest, we have a business that has been told by a government department to comply with the law and that is what they did. 

Had Byron Burgers not complied then they would have been open to rather severe Civil Penalties (which could have been up to £20,000 per employee) as well as potential criminal prosecution. This could have potentially destroyed the business and resulted in massive job losses. 

Some have criticised the retailer for the manner in which they 'entrapped' the employees. However as an immigration lawyer, I know what the alternative would have been - it would have been an aggressive raid during opening hours, with customers bulldozed over, dazed staff holding knives and cooking equipment pushed to the ground before being bundled into a truck. It would have been a 'detain first, ask questions later' approach. Oh, and Byron would probably still have got fined. Had Byron told the individuals concerned that the Home Office were on their way, Byron would have also broken the law. The expression that comes to mind is "between a rock and a hard place". 

As an immigration lawyer, I have been somewhat hesitant to comment on these events. Partly because, as already stated above, I am not shocked to hear of the Home Office tactics in this matter but also because this incident would have been deeply distressing to the staff at Byron (both those who were detained and those who are lawfully employed by the business). 

That being said, it does not change the fact that the individuals illegally working at Byron were fully aware that they were working illegally and some (if not all) had actually gone to such lengths as to obtain forged documents to further their ability to work in the UK.

This incident needs to be considered in its context - i.e. a business following the law once it became aware that it was the victim of fraud and illegal activity.  This won't be the last time that we see a story of this nature (and it certainly isn't the first) as immigration control has become increasingly foisted on to the private sector (with 'right to work' checks, 'right to bank' checks and 'right to rent' checks). 

Employers, landlords and banks are being turned into Immigration Officers - "Papers please!"

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And yet it is difficult to see what alternatives were available to the Byron management. If they chose to defy the authorities, they themselves would be prosecuted and fined, and the Albanians, Egyptians, Brazilians and Nepalese working for them kicked out anyway. Whether immigration is a good thing for the economy or not, or whether it is justified on some wider social or cultural grounds, is not a question for a burger bar. It would not appear that any of these individuals are asylum seekers, and if they are then they are free to claim asylum now. The laws on immigration may be strict, even draconian, but they do not in themselves amount to an abuse of human rights. It is said that some used fraudulent personal and right to work documentation to get their jobs.
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