Independent reviewer calls for an urgent end to the tied visa system for migrant domestic workers

Kalayaan is delighted that James Ewins’ independent review of the Overseas Domestic Worker visa, released today calls for an end to the current system which ties workers to their employers.

The review finds that ‘the existence of a tie to a specific employer and the absence of a universal right to change employer and apply for extensions of the visa are incompatible with the reasonable protection of overseas domestic workers while in the UK.’

This right to change employers is a fundamental protection and the recommendations are an important first step in the protection of migrant domestic workers in the UK. Kalayaan is pleased that the review recommends that the permission to change employer also apply to those migrant domestic workers whose employers are diplomats and that all overseas domestic workers who are to work in diplomatic households are to be employed by the mission rather than individual diplomats.

The review also calls for mandatory group information meetings for all overseas domestic workers who remain in the UK for more than 42 days. Kalayaan welcomes any increase in opportunities for migrant domestic workers to receive information about their rights. We believe that if these meetings are delivered appropriately, in an environment where workers feel safe and genuinely able to disclose abuse, and are given meaningful options, such as changing employer, they can be an important tool in preventing and ending abuse.

Migrant domestic workers who accompany an employer to the UK for employment in their private household have since April 2012 been tied by the immigration rules to their employer. Since this time they have entered the UK on a visa which is valid for a maximum of 6 months and which cannot be extended beyond this time.

The Independent review of the ODW visa was commissioned following commitments made within the Modern Slavery Act. The Government have stated it is their intention to implement the review’s recommendations. As such changes can be made within the immigration rules we hope we will soon be seeing a significant improvement in the situation of migrant domestic workers in the UK who have entered on the ODW visa.

For further information please contact Kate Roberts, Head of Policy, Kalayaan or
020 7243 2942

London Assembly votes to release migrant workers from tied-visas

On the 2nd of December 2015, The London Assembly today called for the Mayor of London to write to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and make the case to repeal the tied-visa system.

Introduced in 2012, the tied-visa system, attaches domestic workers to their employers.

Assembly Members agreed a unanimous motion calling for the protection of domestic workers, who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Murad Qureshi AM, who proposed the motion said:

“With migrant domestic workers at risk of low pay, mental and physical abuse, and trafficking, we need urgent action to deliver protection and justice for those on the receiving end.

Even with greater efforts to check on the welfare of migrant workers, tied-visas can be a huge barrier to justice and a catalyst for modern day slavery.”

Andrew Boff AM, who seconded the motion said:

“In making changes to the domestic workers’ visa, the Government has actually become complicit in the slavery of domestic workers.

I don’t think that is the intention, but the result is the effective licensing of modern day slavery. It needs to change.”

To read the full text of the motion and the London Assembly’s press release see here

Migrant domestic workers in the UK after the Modern Slavery Act

On December 1st, a panel discussion on the situation of Migrant Domestic Workers in the UK after the Modern Slavery Act was held in the House of Commons. The event was sponsored by Fiona Mactaggart MP and organised by domestic workers in Justice 4 Domestic Workers, the supporting organization Kalayaan and Unite the Union. This event brought together a range of supporters who talked about the current issues that migrant domestic workers are facing in the UK, who in spite of the Modern Slavery Act remain tied to their employers by the immigration rules. The panelists reiterated how pressing the current situation is and how important it is for something to be done.

Speakers included Fiona Mactaggart MP, Marissa Begonia of Justice 4 Domestic Workers, Karin Pape of the International Domestic Workers’ Federation, Ross Jardin who presented his research into health and safety issues which effect migrant domestic workers and Sarbjit Johal who had compiled a booklet on domestic workers’ stories. James Ewins who has been commissioned by the Home Secretary to carry out a review of the tied visa also spoke. As his findings have not yet been published by the Home Office he had to focus on the process of the review and the challenges of evidencing the hidden lives and treatment of migrant domestic workers in the UK. The event was Chaired by Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary of Unite.

The event was packed with standing room only and many migrant domestic workers were present who spoke out from the floor. An exhibition of photos by Elijah Villanueva of migrant domestic workers in the UK was displayed around the room.

The speakers spoke of the historic struggle of migrant domestic workers in the UK, how the situation remains dire at present in spite of the Modern Slavery Act and the importance of continuing to campaign for justice and access to rights in practice for migrant domestic workers. This includes working to change the immigration rules in the UK to restore the rights contained within the Original Overseas Domestic Worker visa and to push for the UK to sign and ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Domestic Workers Convention 189 on ‘Decent Work for Domestic Workers’. This sets out the entitlements and protections that domestic workers should have around the world. The convention sets standards for domestic workers in terms of their working conditions, working hours, health and safety, payment, etc. This convention was established in 2011 and since then it has been ratified by twenty-two countries, however the UK is yet to ratify the convention.

Blog by Shavonne Ravlich (Kalayaan volunteer)