FOUR suspected illegal workers have been arrested after raids on two Chinese stores.
UK Border Agency officers swooped on a Southwick takeaway and a Sunderland city centre food store, after being tipped off about possible illegal employees working there.
Three men and a woman were arrested, leaving business bosses facing possible hefty fines of up to £20,000 each.
Wallace Wilson, manager of the Northumbria Local Immigration Team, said the operation had been a “huge success”.
Two arrests were made at The Oriental House Chinese restaurant at Beaumont Street, Southwick.
A 40-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of absconding from immigration restrictions.
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A Chinese man, believed to be a failed asylum seeker who did not have permission to work, was dismissed from employment.
At Fortune Oriental Foods, in Fawcett Street, two Chinese men, aged 42 and 48, were arrested on suspicion of absconding from immigration restrictions.
The businesses were issued with civil penalty notices of £10,000 per illegal worker found – a potential total of £20,000 for the restaurant and £20,000 for the food store.
Mr Wilson said: “Illegal working is not victimless and often people who are found to be working illegally are themselves victims.
“They may have been trafficked in or are working for a very low wage that is below the minimum wage and very long hours.
“The other important thing is the employers are trying to cheat the public purse by not paying tax like everyone else.
“It undercuts honest traders, defrauds the public purse and takes advantage of some of society’s most vulnerable people.”
The businesses have 30 days to prove they carried out proper checks on their workers, or will face having to pay the fines.
Mr Wilson said: “By trying to save money by underpaying and avoiding tax, businesses could end up considerably worse off.
“We will come down hard on those employers who seek to abuse immigration law.
“Our message to employers could not be clearer.
“No matter where you are, if you chose to use illegal labour we will find you and we will take action.”
Anyone who suspects illegal workers are being employed can contact the Northumbria Local Immigration Team on 238 0484 or online at www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/aboutus/contact/report-crime.