(Nov. 6, 2008) According to European Union estimates, there are approximately four to eight million immigrants who are hired to work in the EU despite a lack of proper documentation. It is estimated that their number increases by half a million annually. In May 2007, in an effort to curb illegal immigration, the European Commission introduced a proposal for a directive that would impose administrative as well as criminal sanctions to employers who employ undocumented immigrants from countries outside the EU.
The issue of imposing criminal penalties has caused friction among EU members. While some members apparently favor the idea, others, including Germany, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, the Netherlands, and Sweden, expressed their disapproval of the initiative and argued that the EU must find other means to fight illegal immigration.
Nevertheless, on November 5, 2008, the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament approved the sanctions proposal. Once it becomes law, employers who hire illegal immigrants will face sanctions that include the obligation to pay repatriation costs, unpaid wages, taxes, and social contributions. Criminal penalties will be reserved for serious cases of exploitation and human trafficking. The proposed directive also provides that individuals who have been subjected to severe exploitation and have initiated legal proceedings to recover lost wages will be allowed to stay temporarily in the given country where their cases are pending. At the same time, the proposal allows for the opportunity to regularize undocumented workers. (MEPs Back Penalties for Hiring Irregular Migrants, EU OBSERVER, Nov. 5, 2008, available at http://euobserver.com/9/27051.)