In a striking exposé, The Guardian has revealed the plight of thousands of migrant workers in the UK, who are facing severe exploitation due to systemic failures in the post-Brexit employer sponsorship scheme. This scheme, which replaced the freedom of movement after Brexit, has been criticized for prioritizing immigration control over the rights and welfare of workers.
The Work Rights Centre's report, titled "Systematic Drivers of Migrant Worker Exploitation in the UK," delves into 40 cases of migrant workers at risk of exploitation. It highlights a disturbing trend where workers, lured by the promise of employment in the UK, are often scammed by agents in their home countries.
These agents charge exorbitant fees to arrange visas and job placements, but upon arrival in the UK, many workers find that the promised jobs do not exist. Trapped in a dire situation, they are left with few options but to accept exploitation or seek precarious, cash-in-hand jobs.
One harrowing account is of an Indian nurse who, along with her partner and young child, is stranded in the UK after paying £20,000 to an agent for a work visa and job placement. Upon arrival, she was informed by her sponsor employer that there was no work available. Now, she faces the threat of deportation and the daunting task of repaying her debts.
The report calls for urgent reforms, including ending the dependency of migrant workers on sponsors, establishing a single enforcement body for safe reporting of abuse, and appointing a migrant commissioner to develop a welfare strategy for these workers.
Dr. Dora-Olivia Vicol, chief executive of the Work Rights Centre, starkly compares the sponsorship to bonded labour, giving employers undue power over migrants and making it extremely difficult for them to leave exploitative situations. The Home Office has been approached for a comment on these findings.