Updates, commentary, training and advice on immigration and asylum law

UK agriculture and care visas are leading to the exploitation of workers


Older content is locked

A great deal of time and effort goes into producing the information on Free Movement, become a member of Free Movement to get unlimited access to all articles, and much, much more


By becoming a member of Free Movement, you not only support the hard-work that goes into maintaining the website, but get access to premium features;

  • Single login for personal use
  • FREE downloads of Free Movement ebooks
  • Access to all Free Movement blog content
  • Access to all our online training materials
  • Access to our busy forums
  • Downloadable CPD certificates

On the same day that The Bureau of Investigative Journalism published an article on how the visa system prevents care workers from reporting abuse, a new report by several academics and NGOs has been published “UK agriculture and care visas: worker exploitation and obstacles to redress”. The report looks at the links between “tied” visas (where a person’s leave is dependent on their being employed by a specific employer, which cannot be easily changed) and short term visas and exploitation. The report sets out the experiences of people working in the agricultural and care sectors, including those on overseas domestic worker visas.

The report’s main findings are that the conditions attached to the routes exacerbate the precarious position of the worker and increasing their vulnerability to exploitation. There are also issues with the use of intermediaries, or agents, with widespread discrepancies between actual and promised terms of employment indicating that some are using deception. There are a variety of barriers to migrants facing exploitation to raise this, the barriers include unfamiliarity with the system, lack of knowledge of their entitlements, language barriers and a fear of being forced to leave the UK. The no recourse to public funds restriction was also highlighted as a particular problem.

The best solution to mitigate against the risks associated with these routes would be to provide an option for renewal where there isn’t currently one, remove the ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition and offer a pathway to settlement within a reasonable timeframe. Short of that, the main recommendations are as follows:

  • that UKVI / Home Office amend the visa schemes to make it viable in practice to change employers
  • that the Home Office enable visa extension applications where a worker: (a) can secure a job for a duration longer than six months, (b) can secure a new role or an extension of their current role within the UK, or (c) intends to commence legal action or seek advice on employment matters.
  • that the Modern Slavery Unit and UKVI consider establishing a working group of enforcement agencies, Scheme Operators, NGOs, and academics to determine a comprehensive method of regulating recruitment
  • that the Department for Health and Social Care implements regulations to abolish repayment fees
  • that the Director of Labour Market Enforcement (or other appropriate body) undertake an urgent review in order to establish a clear division of responsibilities
  • that the UK Government and relevant agencies urgently establish a firewall to separate the police and labour inspectorates from immigration enforcement
  • that the Home Office require employers to create internal systems of dispute resolution as a condition of sponsorship. Further, we recommend that the UK Government explore mechanisms for establishing an independent and accessible external dispute resolution mechanism

For anyone who hasn’t already listened, you can hear ATLEU’s Jamila Duncan-Bosu and I discuss many of these issues as they relate to seasonal agricultural workers in our podcast from late last year, and I also recommend this article by Focus on Labour Exploitation’s Peter Wieltschnig.

Relevant articles chosen for you
Picture of Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan is an experienced immigration, asylum and public law solicitor. She has been practising for over ten years and was previously legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and legal and policy director at Rainbow Migration. Sonia is the Editor of Free Movement.