Seasonal Work after the War in Ukraine

By Olivia Vicol and Andrei Savitski - 18 June 2022

On the 26th of May, the Home Office published the latest quarterly immigration statistics for the United Kingdom. This includes an overview of the visas it issued every three months from January 2019 to March 2022, broken down by visa type, outcome, and the applicant’s nationality.

In this briefing we take a close look at Seasonal Worker visas, and what the numbers mean for workers and stakeholders engaged in the fight against labour exploitation.

Seasonal workers experience some of the harshest work conditions in the UK, confined to remote rural areas, isolated from sources of community support, and often invisible even to labour enforcement agencies. Several media investigations have documented it time and again – you can read more in our March briefing.

TRENDS. To prevent exploitation from occurring, we examine what the latest immigration trends tell us about workers’ countries of origin, and how labour enforcement agencies may use this intelligence to buttress their prevention and investigation work. In summary, we find two trends for 2022:

  • The number of seasonal worker visas issued to Ukrainians is likely to decrease, as the war prevents men from leaving the country, and new visas give those Ukrainians who can leave the right to work in other, lower risk sectors.
  • By contrast, we are already seeing an increase in the number of visas issued to workers from Central Asia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Nepal, as farmers and recruiters turn their attention to new labour markets.

IMPLICATIONS. The trends in the recruitment of seasonal workers raise several important implications for labour rights.

  • As visa operators look to recruit from new markets, there is a risk that workers are charged illegal recruitment fees from local agents who claim to operate for, but without real scrutiny from, UK regulated firms.
  • Particularities of language, social media use, but also taboos around reporting may make it harder for workers to report exploitation, especially when there are few community groups focused on migrants from Central Asia and Nepal.

While the data is still too recent to draw definite conclusions, labour enforcement agencies and other stakeholders engaged in the fight against exploitation could take several steps to mitigate the risks. This includes researching the new countries of origin, particularly the landscape of recruitment; embedding origin country languages in frontline teams; and making an effort to reach out to workers.

Read the briefing to understand more. And remember: every day our team of caseworkers support migrant workers to understand and access their rights. We couldn’t do it without our funders. Please consider making a donation today.

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