The Independent Review of the Overseas Domestic Worker Visa – A Panel Discussion

On 9 February 2016, James Ewins presented the main findings of his Independent Review of the Overseas Domestic Workers Visa at an event hosted by Lord Hylton at the House of Lords. The event’s organisers, Kalayaan, Unite the Union and Justice 4 Domestic Workers, led a panel discussion following the presentation, with poignant contribution from many domestic workers in attendance.

Published in December 2015, James Ewins’ review found 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.”

Ewins discussed the challenges he faced in obtaining quantitative evidence for his review, pointing to the dearth of data on overseas domestic workers at the Home Office. He noted that while the Home Office’s data collection grows daily, the information remains unprocessed and inaccessible. Ewins relied primarily on qualitative evidence gathered from a variety of sources such as NGOs, employment agencies and individual witnesses. His recommendations, he emphasised, are based on the best evidence available.

Ewins highlighted his main proposals for changing the current rules governing overseas domestic workers, based on the principles of prevention, protection and prosecution. He argued for the exemplary treatment of overseas domestic workers who come forward as victims of abuse and punishment for their abusive sponsors.

Ewins advocated for the right of overseas domestic workers to change their employer and to legally work in the UK for up to 2 ½ years. He explained that while this is not a fixed number, 2 ½ years represents a viable alternative to the current 6 months, as it will provide overseas domestic workers with greater stability and a meaningful opportunity to escape abusive employers and find alternative work in the UK.

Ewins noted that the visa application process was insufficient to prevent abuse and called for the introduction of in-country information meetings for overseas domestic workers who are in the UK for more than 42 days. Such meetings would provide information, advice and support to empower workers through knowledge of their rights and the capacity to exercise those rights while in the UK.

Finally, Ewins emphasised the need for increased prosecutions in cases of abuse of overseas domestic workers by their sponsors. He noted that criminal prosecutions, immigration and employment sanctions could act as a substantial deterrent to abuse by sponsors who frequently visit the UK.

Ewins’ review is currently under Government consideration. Ewins asked supporters to maintain visibility on the issues faced by overseas domestic workers in the UK and pressure on the Government to act on his recommendations.

Blog by Zina Al-Askari (Kalayaan Volunteer)

The right to change employer- used by those who need it

Migrant domestic workers who accompanied an employer to the UK to work in their private household before the rules changed in April 2012 had the right to change employer. This right was an important protection which allowed those who needed to to escape abuse and find another job, and to go on and apply to renew their visa in the UK if they remained in full time work as a domestic worker in a private household in the UK.

The answer given on the 20th January 2016 by James Brokenshire MP to Jim Shannon MP’s question as to how many domestic workers from overseas applied for leave to remain in the UK in each of the last five years suggests that only 8% of those migrant domestic workers who entered on the Overseas Domestic Worker (ODW) visa before April 2012 and who had the right to change employer and / or renew their visa and remain in the UK did so.

This is because in any of the given years there are at least 5 years of entrants on the ODW visa who would potentially be applying for Leave to Remain. Anyone who remains in the UK on the pre 2012 ODW visa has to apply to renew their visa annually until they become eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). ILR eligibility for pre 2012 ODWs requires 5 years of lawful residence plus meeting the English language requirements. 5 years of leave to remain applications (or visa renewals) is an underestimate for some migrant domestic workers as some are not able to apply for ILR after 5 years, usually because they have not met the English language requirement. This means that in practice less than 8% of eligible ODWs may be successfully applying for leave to remain in the UK. The calculations for this can be found in the following table ODWs and LTR 2010-14 table

These figures suggests that the pre 2010 right to renew the visa and remain in the UK was an option used by a minority of workers on this visa. Given the reports of serious abuse and exploitation including trafficking made to organisations such as Kalayaan it is likely that it is those workers who were seriously mistreated by their employers who used the rights provided by the pre 2012 ODW visa to escape their employer, find other work as a domestic worker in the UK and move on and rebuild their lives.

Appendix 7 of the Immigration Rules – section 12, Healthcare

There is no longer a requirement that an employer needs to take out private health insurance for the domestic worker they employ. The requirement to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge when applying to renew the visa remains in place.

Appendix 7 of the Immigration Rules was amended last Autumn so that the employer can simply give the undertaking that they will ensure that the worker has access to free healthcare.

See Appendix 7 here

Information on the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) can be found here

Freshfields secures £300,000 for trafficking victim – Protracted case highlights difficulties of enforcing judgements

Freshfields has secured over £300,000 for a recognised victim of human trafficking from South Asia who was exploited as a domestic servant within the UK.

Freshfields has secured over £300,000 for a recognised victim of human trafficking from South Asia who was exploited as a domestic servant within the UK. The case, which took four and a half years to resolve, has highlighted issues in the British legal system in enforcing judgements on defendants who try to avoid paying.

See full article here