How the UK's immigration system fuels exploitation of workers

Post-Brexit UK immigration links migrants to sponsors, limiting job flexibility and handing employers unchecked authority

Representative image of UK flag (Photo: IANS)
Representative image of UK flag (Photo: IANS)


With most work visas tied to sponsors, the UK's post-Brexit Points Based Immigration System severely limits migrant workers’ abilities to change jobs, putting employers in a position of great power, which remains unchecked, according to a new report.

Thousands of migrant workers face risk of exploitation because of multiple failures in the Home Office’s employer sponsorship scheme, said the report titled, 'Systematic Drivers of Migrant Worker Exploitation in the UK' by Work Rights Centre.

The risk of exploitation is exacerbated by the issues ingrained in the UK’s labour enforcement system, the research said after drawing on 39 case studies with migrant workers, including those under the Health and Care Visa and Seasonal Worker Visa.

"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.

“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 called on the government to end employer-sponsorship of visas, and give migrants the freedom to change employers, and institute a Single Enforcement Body, where labour exploitation can be reported securely.

It also urged the government to set up an independent Migrants' Commissioner, tasked with drafting a Migrant Worker Welfare Strategy, to prevent migrant labour exploitation in the long term.

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