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U.K. ministers urged to change policy that facilitates exploitation of overseas domestic workers

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Law & Policy

Government ministers in the U.K. are being urged to change a 2012 policy that removed the rights of holders of overseas domestic worker visas to change employer and renew their stay, making them extremely vulnerable to exploitation.

As reported in The Independent this week, despite amendments in 2016 allowing domestic workers to change employers within the six-month term of their visas—and to apply for further leave to remain up to two years if they are found to be in conditions of modern slavery— charities say the changes have made no difference to the levels of abuse and domestic servitude suffered.

Organizations representing overseas domestic workers are calling on ministers to urgently reinstate the pre-2012 overseas domestic worker visa, which offered crucial protections including the right to get another job without jeopardizing their livelihood and their immigration status.

A Labour MP supporting the campaign, Jess Phillips, stated:

“It is harrowing to hear the experiences of exploitation and abuse each and every time I meet with overseas domestic workers. Without question these women need agency, rights, and support that the current system does not provide.”

A survey conducted in 2018 of 539 overseas domestic workers in the U.K. found that more than three quarters had experienced physical, verbal or sexual abuse, half reported that they were not given enough food at work, and six in 10 were not given their own private room in employer’s house.

Even if workers flee exploitation and are recognized by the government as victims of modern slavery, many fear deportation because of the U.K.’s restrictive immigration system.

As Kate Roberts, U.K. and Europe manager at Anti-Slavery International, told The Independent:

“People who hold the overseas domestic worker visa have repeatedly shown that restrictive immigration measures facilitate the exploitation of migrant workers…Domestic workers migrate because they need to work. People are making really difficult choices to work and support their families. And if they don’t have this right to work, it’s something exploiters can abuse to create this vulnerability. People need to be able to exercise their rights.“

In response to The Independent’s article, a spokesperson for the U.K. Home Office stated:

“We are committed to protecting migrant domestic workers from abuse and exploitation…We have already made a number of changes to the overseas domestic worker immigration route to better protect workers. However, we are not complacent, and we will continue efforts to ensure that no worker suffers abuse at the hands of their employer.”

Freedom United partner, The Voice of Domestic Workers, is campaigning for the U.K. to reinstate the pre-2012 Overseas Domestic Worker visa. If you are a U.K. citizen, sign the petition here to get the government to respond.

We are calling on all world governments to protect domestic workers from exploitation and abuse by ratifying the Domestic Workers’ Convention – has your government taken action yet? Join the campaign today.

Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.

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