The UK's post-Brexit Points Based Immigration System, which links most work visas to sponsors, is facing criticism in a recent report titled 'Systematic Drivers of Migrant Worker Exploitation in the UK' by the Work Rights Centre. The report highlights concerns that the system severely restricts the ability of migrant workers to change jobs as their visas are tied to specific sponsors. This limitation places considerable power in the hands of employers, creating a situation that currently lacks adequate checks and balances.
According to the report, thousands of migrant workers are at risk of exploitation due to multiple shortcomings in the Home Office's employer sponsorship scheme. The study draws on 39 case studies, involving migrant workers, including those under specialized visas like the Health and Care Visa and Seasonal Worker Visa.
The report emphasizes that the risk of exploitation is further compounded by inherent issues within the UK's labor enforcement system. These findings shed light on the challenges faced by migrant workers and underscore the need for a closer examination of the existing immigration and labor policies to address these vulnerabilities and ensure fair treatment for all workers in the UK.
"Divided between numerous agencies with unclear remits, poorly resourced, and reliant on businesses to self-regulate, the labour enforcement system remains ill-equipped to identify, respond to, and prevent the exploitation of migrant workers," the report said.
“From the perspective of migrant workers, sponsorship is akin to bonded labour. It hands employers the power to exploit migrants, knowing that it will be very hard for them to leave," Dora-Olivia Vicol, chief executive of the Work Rights Centre, told the Guardian.
"We have seen many tragic cases where people come to accept exploitation. The work-sponsorship system needs urgent reform to prevent even more migrant workers being exploited,” she said.
In a concerning case highlighted by The Guardian, an Indian nurse finds herself stranded in the UK with her partner and young child after paying a substantial sum of 20,000 pounds to an agent in her home country. The agent had assured her of obtaining a UK work visa and securing employment in the country. However, upon her arrival, the sponsor employer informed her that there was no available work.
This unfortunate situation leaves the nurse and her family in a precarious position, facing the risk of deportation. To avoid this, she now has the challenging task of finding another sponsor employer within a limited timeframe of 60 days.
This case underscores the vulnerabilities and challenges faced by migrant workers, particularly in instances where promises made by agents or sponsors are not fulfilled. It sheds light on the need for a more robust system to protect the rights and interests of migrant workers and emphasizes the importance of addressing issues within the sponsorship and immigration processes to prevent such situations from occurring in the future.
She told the UK-based daily that "she cannot sleep at night" and feels that she has been "mentally harrassed".
“I was given a dismissal letter because the employer said I was not talking to them in a good way,” she told the Guardian.
“I was simply asking when I could start work. The situation is so stressful and I feel completely hopeless and cheated. I know there are hundreds of people in the same situation."
The report advocates for significant reforms in the UK's immigration and labor policies. It specifically calls on the government to terminate the practice of employer-sponsored visas, emphasizing the importance of affording migrants the freedom to switch employers. This change aims to reduce the power imbalances and potential exploitation faced by migrant workers tied to specific sponsors.
Additionally, the report proposes the establishment of a Single Enforcement Body dedicated to handling reports of labor exploitation securely. Such a body would centralize efforts to address and rectify issues related to migrant worker exploitation, streamlining the process for reporting and enforcement.
Furthermore, the report recommends the creation of an independent Migrants' Commissioner. This Commissioner would be entrusted with developing a comprehensive Migrant Worker Welfare Strategy, focusing on preventing the exploitation of migrant labor over the long term. This strategic approach is designed to address systemic issues and create a more protective and equitable environment for migrant workers in the UK.
(With Agency Inputs)