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New Visas Increase Modern Slavery Risk for Migrant Workers, Study Shows

Visas created hastily to solve labour shortages as a result of Brexit have put workers at greater risk of modern slavery and exploitation, research has found.

Strict conditions on agricultural and care visas created after Britain left the EU expose workers to “hyper-precarity” and increase their vulnerability to exploitation, a study by a coalition of leading universities and charities has concluded.

Since Brexit, farm workers and care home workers have had a route to Britain on time-limited visas with stringent conditions.

Workers on the schemes faced significant issues of debt and deductions from wages because of illegal recruitment fees as well as costs incurred from travel, training, accommodation and high visa charges, researchers found. They also described deception by intermediaries, who misled workers about the conditions and length of employment they could expect.

Migrant workers’ vulnerability to exploitation was compounded by the hostile environment as fears of immigration enforcement action deterred them from reporting mistreatment or exploitation to the authorities, researchers found. The risks were increased by the fact that government agencies charged with enforcing employment rights were underfunded and did not have capacity to audit workplaces proactively, the study said.

Dr Inga Thiemann at the University of Leicester, who led the research team, said there was a high risk of “labour exploitation and debt bondage” under both visas. She said Brexit had made workers more vulnerable because those coming from Europe had previously “had the possibility to make complaints and to talk about labour exploitation because they wouldn’t risk their status automatically if their employer revoked the sponsorship”.

Thiemann added: “What we see a lot of in the care sector is that people aren’t willing to come forward even if they are experiencing severe labour abuse because they are not sure that they can find another sponsor within the timeframe that the Home Office gives them to do so.

"So they’re more afraid of losing their job and having to go back home and having all this debt they have incurred than they are of continuing with the exploitation they are experiencing.”

She said it needed to be easier for workers to change employers, so that moving jobs was “an actual possibility”, adding: “It cannot stay in this hypothetical state because otherwise workers are just too vulnerable.”


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