Education Secretary Charles Clarke's proposed crackdown on illegal workers, forming part of the Home Office fiveyear strategy for asylum and immigration, is posing problems for employers across the Midlands.
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants are living in the UK, many of whom work in factories, service industries and construction.
A year after the tragic deaths of the Chinese cocklepickers in Morecambe Bay, the issue of illegal workers is back again under the spotlight.
"As the Home Office takes an increasingly hard line on illegal working, employers cannot fail to be astute," said Teresa Dolan, a senior employment lawyer at Hammonds in Birmingham.
"Employers need to be aware that current asylum and immigration legislation makes it a criminal offence in the UK to employ a person aged 16 or over who does not have the legal right to work in the UK or the right to do the type of work offered to them."
Currently there is a potential £5,000 fine that can be levied on employers for each illegal worker, but the Home Office wants to increase this limit.
Furthermore, any individuals responsible for recruitment, within an organisation, can be held personally liable where it is shown that the employment of illegal workers was committed with their consent or connivance or could be attributed to their negligence.
The immigration service and police are working together on a more regular basis to target businesses and there is an increasing use of information across various Government departments to try to identify potential breaches of the legislation, such as between the tax and immigration authorities.
"There is a statutory defence which employers may rely upon where an illegal worker is found to be within their workforce," said Ms Dolan.
"Employers should ask all potential employees to provide original documentation evidencing their entitlement to work in the UK. They should ask to see the original of a ' secure' document, such as a UK or European Economic Area passport, a national ID card or a UK residence permit.
In the absence of such documents, two verifying documents such as the person's permanent National Insurance number and name and a full birth certificate issued in the UK or an immigration status document issued by the Home Office indicating that the person named can stay indefinitely in the UK, should be required."
New asylum and immigration legislation came into force on May 1, 2004, which sets out the types of documents which employers are required to check and copy to enable them to benefit from the statutory defence. Ms Dolan warns employees not to make rash based on appearance when carrying out checks.