Immigration lawyers are warning that Government plans to create a new offence of employing people who do not have permission to work in the UK may mean employers will fall foul of the Race Relations Act.

Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act will be brought into force on the 27 January 1997, despite concerns voiced by the Glidewell Panel, which carried out an independent inquiry into the Act.

The panel was not “convinced that the Government has thought through the dangerous implications [of the Act] for race relations”.

Cameron Markby Hewitt partner Julia Onslow-Cole, who is chairman of the International Bar Association (IBA) migration and nationality committee and also sits on the Law Society's sub-committee on immigration, said the IBA and the Law Society view Section 8 as a “meaningless and paper-chasing exercise that will not work”.

“It is clear,” Onslow-Cole said, “that employers need to exercise great care in complying with the Act on the one hand, but ensuring that they do not stray in to the territory of race discrimination.”

She said clients were already ringing up seeking advice to ensure they implemented the appropriate recruitment procedures.

She believed their fears were well founded, because damages for discrimination were unlimited, so if they got it wrong, any “consequences could be severe”.

The reintroduction of immigration forms has also met considerable opposition from immigration lawyers.

They were first introduced in June 1996, but were scrapped after the Immigration Law Practice Association successfully instigated a judicial review.