GWENT businesses paid more than £287,000 in penalties for employing illegal workers last year.

Figures obtained by the Argus from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) under the Freedom of Information Act show that between April 1 2009 and March 31, 2010, a total of 53 businesses had enforcement visits, compared to 65 in 2008/2009.

Out of the businesses visited by enforcement officers in 2009/2010, 29 were served with notificiations of potential liability for employing illegal workers, with 23 notices being served in 2008/2009.

Once notifications of potential liability have been issued, the UKBA officers consider evidence provided by the team who visited the premises and decide whether to issue a notification of liability and a civil penalty of up to £10,000 each illegal worker.

In 2008/2009, the total value of penalities issued to businesses in Gwent was £177,500 and in 2009/2010 it was £287,500.

Of the illegal workers found at premises in 2008/2009, 13 were removed from the UK and in 2009/2010 22 were removed.

Jane Farleigh, UKBA regional director for Wales, said: “As well as finding individuals who are working illegally, we have handed out hefty fines to the businesses which employ them and lure illegal immigrants to the UK in the first place.

“Since the time covered by the figures, we have created a dedicated Local Immigration Team for Gwent which is even better placed to crack down on illegal working and deal with other immigration issues in south east Wales.”