Ministers warned against forcing firms and landlords to act as immigration officials

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David Watt, executive director of Institute of Directors Scotland

Firms have warned ministers against forcing them to shoulder the burden of immigration policing when the UK leaves the EU.

The UK Government already requires company bosses and private landlords to weed out prospective employees and tenants who are in the country illegally.

Nicola Sturgeon has also pointed to immigration controls based on employment and housing checks as a way of keeping an open border with England, should Scotland maintain EU free movement while the rest of the UK does not.

But bodies representing firms and landlords say their members must not be made to act as immigration officials in the new system, which is set to restrict the rights of EU nationals to work here.

Alan Mitchell, the chief executive of Fife Chamber of Commerce, said business should not be forced to take on “regulatory and administrative roles that are the responsibility of the state”.

He said: “Businesses pay a lot of taxes precisely to fund the work of government and it is unacceptable to impose additional burdens and costs on our wealth creators by asking them to do work that the government and its many taxpayer-funded agencies should be doing on behalf of the country.”

A spokesman for the National Landlords Association said it is best practice for their members to make checks, but warned: “Landlords are not immigration experts or border control agents, nor should they be expected to be.”

David Watt, who heads up the Institute of Directors Scotland, said more work is needed to determine immigration controls but added “giving even more work to employers is not the answer”.

He said increasing the burden on them would be “costly and unfair” and called for the UK Border Agency to be rebuilt around the use of “far smarter technology”.

The UK Government has said free movement of people from the EU will end with Brexit, although there may be exemptions for certain areas and sectors.

Under the existing system, employers can be fined up to £20,000 for each illegal worker taken on without doing the proper checks. For landlords, the maximum fine is £3,000 per illegal tenant.

Ms Sturgeon’s Scotland’s Place in Europe paper, which says an open border with England is achievable even if Scotland stays in the single market, relies on immigration checks being made by employers and landlords down south, rather than by officials on the border.

Asked about that prospect, Paul Carbert, from North East England Chamber of Commerce, said the “growing burden on businesses hiring new staff is a concern”.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said limiting the free movement of people, which is poised to happen with Brexit, has the “potential to seriously harm Scotland’s long-term economic future”.

A Home Office spokeswoman said they will use Brexit to “take control of our immigration system”, adding their plans will be published in “due course” and once businesses and communities have been consulted.