Sixty fast food delivery riders have been arrested across London in a week-long Home Office crack down on alleged immigration offences.
Offences included the possession of false documentation and working illegally in the UK, the Home Office said on Monday.
Cash and weapons suspected of being linked to criminal activity were also seized.
Of those arrested, 44 were detained by the Home Office pending their deportation from the UK, while 16 are being released on immigration bail.
“It is also expected that a number of the arrests will result in voluntary departure from the UK,” the Home Office said.
The Home Office claimed there has been an increase in immigration offences by gig economy workers in London.
It said immigration officers carried out “extensive inelligence-gathering” ahead of the operation to identify “hotspots for illegal moped delivery drivers”.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said: “Illegal working damages our communities, cheats honest workers out of employment and defrauds the public purse. As the Prime Minister has set out, we are committed to going further and faster to prevent the abuse of our laws and borders.
“The British public deserve a labour market that is fair and honest and must have confidence that goods and services they buy are from legitimate businesses.”
But the App Drivers and Couriers Union told the Standard that it is “not the role of the police to make immigration checks on the streets in this way”.
“Delivery workers are already very vulnerable and at risk of exposure to modern slavery,” general secretary James Farrar said.
“These workers are also subject to abuse and assault on a regular basis. By conducting these type of non standard police checks in this way, the police are destroying the trust of workers.
“We’d encourage the police not to engage in macho operational tactics but to take a more pragmatic and more effective approach and to to cooperate with trade unions who represent these workers.”
Offenders were of Brazilian, Indian and Algerian nationality, the Home Office said.
Imitation firearms and other weapons were found during searches at properties linked to the arrests. More than £4,500 was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
All employers in the UK have a responsibility to prevent illegal working, the Home Office said.
Employers can be jailed for five years and pay an unlimited fine if they are found guilty of employing someone they knew or had “reasonable cause to believe” did not have the right to work in the UK.
Employers could be fined up to £20,000 per illegal worker.
The offence of working illegally carries a maximum penalty of 51 weeks in England and Wales, or six months’ imprisonment in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
A Deliveroo spokesperson said all riders must have the right to work in the UK in order to have an account with the company.
“Deliveroo takes a zero tolerance approach towards any rider who fails to meet their legal obligations when working with us. If a rider is found to be without the right to work in the UK, we will stop working with them with immediate effect.
“We take our responsibilities extremely seriously and we will always work in close collaboration with the relevant authorities to support their efforts in this area.”
Deliveroo works with self-employed riders who can work for other companies at the same time.
An UberEats spokesperson said: “There is no place for illegal work on our platform, and we take these allegations extremely seriously.
“All couriers who use the Uber Eats app are required to pass a criminal background check, be over the age of 18 and hold a valid right to work in the UK, and we run checks to ensure account holders have the correct documents.
“Any courier that fails to meet these criteria will have their access to the app removed, and we stand ready to work with the police with any investigation.”
JustEat told the Standard: “We have high standards and a robust criteria in place for couriers delivering on behalf of Just Eat. This includes ensuring couriers are over the age of 18, carrying out basic criminal checks (DBS), and making sure they have the right to work in the UK.
“If we find that our high expectations are not met, we will investigate and immediately take action, including removing couriers from our network.”
In May 2021 food delivery drivers told the Standard how they felt “victimised” after police and immigration officers swooped on them in Tooting.
In 90 minutes, 48 bikes were stopped and two were seized for no insurance, three riders were reported for offences and two were arrested for immigration offences.
Rider Carlos Pereria, 26, who has joint Portuguese and British nationality, said at the time: “I think we are being victimised. They say it’s to check roadworthiness of our bikes but that’s not the reason. It was a cover to check immigration status. It’s profiling really and it’s rubbish. During the pandemic we were called heroes.”
Tooting MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan said that it looked like “racial profiling”.
She added that “valuable police time should not be used to prop up Home Office operations”.