U.K. visa system forces care workers to stay silent on abuse

U.K. visa system forces care workers to stay silent on abuse

  • Published on
    March 11, 2024
  • Category:
    Debt Bondage, Forced Labor, Human Trafficking, Survivor Stories
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*Names have been changed to protect anonymity

Abena*, Bernice*, and Chidera* came to the U.K. as migrant care workers, only to find themselves trapped in a wicked system of exploitation and abuse. Abena faced repeated sexual violence from her manager, Bernice endured sexual harassment from her landlord, and Chidera worked almost four months without a day off. The Bureau for Investigative Journalism shares their stories to shed light on a vastly dark issue within the U.K. care sector, where migrant workers fear labor abuses due to their dependency on their employers for their right to stay and work in the country.

Trapped and vulnerable in the U.K. care sector

Migrant care workers in the U.K. face dire consequences if they speak up against exploitation. The existing visa system ties their right to stay and work in the country to their employer, leaving them vulnerable to reprisals, including losing their jobs and visas, and even threats to their safety. The power imbalance often deters workers from reporting abuses, therefore perpetuating a cycle of exploitation.

Kayley Hignell, the interim director of policy said,

Our investigation shows that there are potentially thousands of people trapped in a system which leaves them vulnerable to abuse and threats, powerless to complain, and often losing thousands of pounds. These people are skilled professionals who keep our healthcare services running yet… the best we can sometimes do is help them access a food bank.

Andrew Gwynne MP, the shadow minister for social care, emphasized how the distressing findings reveal the government’s failure in its promise to fix this crisis. “It is vital that we ensure we have a system where exploitation of overseas workers is not related, and steps must be put in place to stop those who perpetrate abuse,” he said.

Citizens Advice, a charity that provides support on debt and housing, recorded evidence from 150 workers and shared the anonymous information with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

Care workers described experiencing wage theft, paying up to £30,000 in illegal recruitment fees, receiving fewer hours than promised, and even being left destitute because of the working conditions experienced in the care sector.

Workers rely on their employers for authorization to remain and work in the U.K.. Some workers reside in their employer’s homes, which they also risk losing if they quit or are dismissed. It is also proven that these circumstances greatly increase the likelihood of exploitation.

According to the investigation,

“About a third (30%) of those who have been mistreated at work said they were scared to raise concerns about their manager or employer because they feared reprisals, including losing their work and visa, and threats to their safety.”

It is time to act!

This situation has left migrant workers like Abena*, Bernice*, and Chidera* vulnerable to dire circumstances. Despite these unconscionable conditions, many are hesitant to report abuse, fearing the loss of their jobs and visas. This fear is exacerbated by the disproportionate power held by employers over their sponsored workers. Instances of exploitation, including below minimum wage and forced relocations, further underscore the vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers in the U.K. care sector leaving workers in precarious situations with limited avenues of recourse.

Migrants are not inherently vulnerable to exploitation or human trafficking. Rather, it is unsafe policies that restrict their rights, protections, and movement that increase their vulnerability and, henceforth, their exploitability. The U.K. government urgently needs to address and regulate labor recruitment agencies and ensure that no migrant care worker gets into the hands of unscrupulous employers.

It is time to take action! As the world’s largest community against modern slavery, we have the power to call on governments to ensure migrant workers everywhere are protected from exploitation. Sign our petition to call for genuine anti-trafficking immigration policies.


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