Work Rights Centre submits written evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee's Seasonal Worker visa inquiry

By Adis Sehic & Olivia Vicol - 26 July 2023

Today, the Work Rights Centre has submitted written evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in relation to its inquiry of the Seasonal Worker (SW) visa. 

The SW visa route, which was initially piloted in 2019, has in recent times been the subject of intense focus given widespread reports of worker exploitation and mistreatment. In March of this year,  the MAC wrote to the Immigration Minister Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP to outline their intention to launch an inquiry into the visa, hoping to explore the ‘rules under which the scheme operators, the size and costs of the scheme, the potential for exploitation and poor labour market practice, evidence from international comparisons and the long-run need for such a scheme.’

Given the short term nature of the visa, the potential for exploitation and the fact that it ties migrant workers to scheme operators without much flexibility, the route has been an area of strategic focus for the Work Rights Centre. Last year, we published two reports on the scheme, exploring how worker exploitation was manifesting on British farms and how the war in Ukraine had dramatically changed the composition of the seasonal workforce, bringing new challenges to the fore. These reports identified some concerning trends on the scheme:

  • bullying from farm supervisors, with migrant seasonal workers unable or unwilling to make complaints;
  • uncertainty over contractual arrangements, issues over pay and an inability for seasonal workers to identify that they had a legal right to demand better, not just a moral right;
  • a limited labour market enforcement ecosystem, where only a fraction of reports turn into actual investigations; and
  • a shift in the scheme’s top nationalities, away from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus to new and more unfamiliar labour markets, where regulation and oversight of recruitment practices presents an even bigger challenge.

Today’s evidence builds on these findings. Informed by the ongoing SW casework of our Service Provision team, our submission to the MAC highlights key issues with the scheme that are hampering the welfare and rights of migrant seasonal workers. A few examples include:

  • A lack of continuity of employment throughout the course of the visa, meaning some workers are told to return home before they have had a meaningful chance to earn money;
  • Inaccessible transfer mechanisms, resulting in workers often not being able to move away from suboptimal farms and labour users; and
  • Workers facing multiple layers of scheme related costs, varying from fake and illegal broker fees charged at the point of recruitment, to unnecessary and illogical tax and pension deductions from payslips.

We continue in our calls for reform of the scheme and call on the government to take urgent action to prevent further exploitation of migrant seasonal workers. You can read the full submission and our recommendations for reform here.

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


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