Work Rights Centre submits written evidence to the ICIBI's inquiry into the immigration system as it relates to the social care sector

By Olivia Vicol and Adis Sehic - 22 September 2023

Earlier this week, the Work Rights Centre submitted written evidence to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), in relation to its inspection of the immigration system as it relates to the social care sector. This is what we shared with the ICIBI, and our recommendations.***

The Skilled Worker - Health and Care visa (the ‘Health and Care visa’) was introduced in August 2020, allowing medical professionals to come or stay in the UK to work with the NHS, an NHS supplier or in adult social care. Expanded in December 2021 to also allow care workers, care assistants and home care workers under its remit, it is currently the most popular type of work visa in the UK.

The Home Office has issued a total of 381,045 Health and Care visas since it was first introduced, including to main applicants and their dependants. With the majority of workers coming from India, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ghana and the Philippines, there has been a sizeable increase in visas issued every year since 2020. 

We are concerned about mounting reports of exploitation under the Health and Care visa. At the Work Rights Centre, we heard from 13 clients on this status this year, whose issues ranged from non-payment of wages to disputes over repayment of inflated training fees. Evidence of exploitation has also been widely reported in the media, as well as in publications by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA).

Our written submission to the ICIBI highlights our concerns. In summary, we focus on the following:

1. The risk of worker exploitation within the Health and Care visa is real. This is visible at the level of recruitment, when intermediaries charge workers illegal recruitment fees, pushing them into debt bondage; but it is also visible in the practices of UK-based employers. We have come across worrying evidence of non-payment, poor accommodation, and unreasonable working hours.

2. It is not clear if the Home Office has the ability to adequately regulate the sponsors it licenses. While the number of sponsors has increased rapidly, we have no data about Home Office compliance visits since 2019. What we do know is that licence suspensions or revocation are less than half as likely in 2022, as they were in 2019.

3. There are currently a myriad governmental actors involved in the regulation of the social care sector. Based on our experience, a fragmented governance nexus risks diluting responsibility for worker welfare, and makes it considerably more difficult for workers to report exploitation and obtain redress.

In light of this evidence, our submission to the ICIBI makes two sets of recommendations. First, a series of measures which can mitigate the risk of exploitation within the Health and Care visa itself, including giving workers more control over their immigration status, removing the requirement for workers to update their visa when moving employers within the same sector, and instituting safe reporting.

Second, we propose measures that can tackle the bigger problem of migrant workers’ overrepresentation in precarious employment, and their under-representation in justice. In our view, the exploitation of care workers is not an isolated story, but the outcome of a fragmented labour enforcement system, where migrant workers in particular fall through the cracks. To tackle this, our submission calls for a Migrant Worker Welfare Strategy and Migrant Commissioner, who will take the lead in identifying welfare concerns and working with the ICIBI and government to address them. 

You can read our recommendations and evidence submitted to the ICIBI here.

To support the Work Rights Centre in our efforts to assist migrant workers, including those on the Health and Care worker visa scheme, please consider making a donation or following us on social media.

*** In the original version of the submission, we made an error relating to the growth in the number of Tier 2 registered sponsors over the last few years. This has been corrected along with any internal references to the relevant statistics, and an amended version of the submission was uploaded on 5 October 2023.

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