Westcountry businesses have been fined more than £3 million for employing illegal workers in the last six years.
The data relates to the civil penalty system through which the Home Office can fine an employer up to £10,000 if they are found to have an illegal immigrant on their books.
The figures show that 338 businesses were fined from 2008 to 2014 including restaurants, cafes, convenience stores, hairdressers and garages.
The highest number of firms were fined in 2008, when 82 businesses were given penalties – 22 in Cornwall, 52 in Devon and eight in Somerset – worth a total of £696,250.
The lowest number of fines came in 2008/9 when 35 firms were given penalties – 10 in Cornwall, 23 in Devon and two in Somerset – worth £307,500.
Kenny Chapman, head of the South West Home Office Immigration Enforcement team, said: “Our officers carry out regular operations throughout the south west to target unscrupulous employers who hire illegal workers.
“Illegal working is not a victimless crime as it cheats the taxpayer, undercuts honest employers and exploits some of society’s most vulnerable people. It also deprives legitimate job hunters of employment opportunities.
“We are happy to work with businesses and advise what checks need to be carried out on staff. However, as these fines show, those who choose to break the law should expect a visit from our officers and to pay a heavy financial penalty.
“New legislation will increase the penalties for rogue businesses and make it easier to enforce payment of fines, while also making it simpler for legitimate businesses to verify individuals’ right to work.”
The Home Office was unable to say how many of the fines had actually been paid – although national figures show that of £80 million fines that were issued, just £25 million were collected.
The civil penalty scheme was introduced in 2008 and allows for penalties of up to £10,000 per illegal worker to be imposed on an employer who has not undertaken the required documentary checks.
Between 2008 and 2012 more than 8,100 penalties were levied against businesses who had employed illegal workers.
The Government is currently seeking to increase the penalty to a maximum of £20,000 along with making it easier to enforce unpaid civil penalty debts in the civil courts.
If these measures are agreed, they will come into force later this year with the Home Office also pledging to simplify its processes and to provide more guidance for businesses.