Still in the dark, still disempowered

Today marks 12 months since changes were made to the immigration rules for migrant domestic workers. These changes followed the independent review by James Ewins who was asked to assess how far the then existing arrangements for workers were effective in protecting them from abuse. One of the main recommendations in the review and accepted by the government, was the introduction of group information meetings. These should provide a safe, comfortable and confidential space for workers to get independent information, advice and support concerning their employment and immigration rights while at work in the UK. They are also an opportunity for workers to come together, socialise and share their experiences with each other.

More than 12 months have passed since the government responded to the independent review and made changes to the immigration rules. During this time approximately 17,000 domestic workers will have arrived in the UK to work for their employer. Regrettably the government has still to implement the information meetings so workers remain uninformed of their rights in the UK. Unfortunately the changes made to the immigration rules are of no worth to domestic workers who are not aware of and are able to enforce their rights.

In the last 12 months Kalayaan has continued to register domestic workers who are unaware of the terms of their visa, including the right to change employer and that this is not conditional upon proving abuse. Workers report not knowing what the National Minimum Wage is, that they should retain control of their passport, have a copy of their employment contract and have access to healthcare.

One of these clients was Leela who arrived in the UK on a domestic worker visa issued after April 2016. Leela was forced to accompany her employer to the UK as she was tied under the kafala system in Saudi Arabia which prevents workers from leaving their employers without their permission. Leela sought work abroad to help support her family who are reliant on her remittances to pay for basic essentials including food, clothes and rent.

After Leela arrived in the UK, her passport was taken from her. She stayed with her employer and their family in a hotel in London. She slept on the floor and was given no food to eat. She was responsible for her employer’s children and expected to be on call 24/7. She was not allowed outside unaccompanied. She survived by stealing the children’s food. She was never paid for her work as her employer told her it had cost a lot of money to bring her to the UK. Leela decided to run away as she could no longer endure working long hours with no food and no money.

When Leela came to Kalayaan she did not know she had the right to leave her employer and work for someone else. She says if she had known she had rights, she wouldn’t have tolerated her treatment and would have left her abusive employer a lot earlier.

Kalayaan has been informed that the government cannot make information meetings compulsory as there is no provision in law to make it a condition of the visa. The effect of this means that those who have no or severe restrictions placed on their freedom, those who need this information most, will not be in a position to attend which undermines the reasons behind introducing information meetings. This is at complete odds with the recommendation made in the independent review which discusses why a voluntary system would be wholly inadequate and why all evidence points to a mandatory condition to ensure workers fundamental rights are protected.

For more information please contact Avril Sharp at Kalayaan: avril@kalayaan.org.uk.

 


Training from Kalayaan : Migrant domestic workers, their rights as workers and as victims of modern slavery – 9 February 2017

Location: London

Address: Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, 65 Fleet Street, London, EC4Y 1HS

Date: Tuesday 9 February 2017 at 2pm (2 hours)

Cost: £60.00 per person

In March 2016 the government responded to the independent review of the Overseas Domestic Worker visa by James Ewins in which he was asked to assess how far the then existing arrangements for Overseas Domestic Workers were effective in protecting workers from abuse. The 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’. The review made a number of recommendations, however the government chose to implement only some through changes to the Immigration Rules in April 2016.

This training explores the history of the domestic worker visa from 1998 up until the changes made in April 2016 to the Immigration Rules. It will provide practitioners with the knowledge to identify indicators of domestic servitude and the rights for those referred and recognised through the National Referral Mechanism as a victim of trafficking or modern day slavery, following the changes made in April 2016. Kalayaan anticipates a number of issues with some of the changes made so these will also be explored and practitioners made aware of how best to prepare for them.

This training is essential for any firm representing migrant domestic workers.

The training is delivered by Marta Bratek, immigration solicitor with 10 years of immigration law practice experience and Avril Sharp, level 3 OISC advisor, former legal officer for the POPPY Project and a policy advocate for Kalayaan.

This training is suitable for:

  • Solicitors
  • Caseworkers and paralegals
  • Firms regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner

For relevant CPD competencies related to the new SRA/OISC schemes click  below:

https://sra.org.uk/solicitors/cpd.page

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/oiscs-reviewed-cpd-scheme

How to book:

Please email your full name and name of your firm to avril@kalayaan.org.uk to secure a place. We will then confirm your place and provide details on making payment.


Overseas Domestic Workers left in the dark by the Immigration Act 2016

As the latest Immigration Bill passed through parliament, the government acknowledged that Overseas Migrant Domestic Workers remain an especially vulnerable group in need of protection against unscrupulous and abusive employers. On 7 March 2016, the Minister for Immigration James Brokenshire responded to the independent report of James Ewins QC and his review of the tied visa in which he was asked by the government to assess how far the then existing arrangements for Overseas Domestic Workers were effective in protecting workers from abuse. On 12 May 2016 the Immigration Bill received Royal Assent and became the Immigration Act 2016.  Sadly, changes made to the Immigration Rules have fallen far short of the recommendations of the Ewins’ report and will keep domestic workers in the dark and at continued risk of abuse and exploitation.

Changing employer

The Ewins’ report recommended that Overseas Domestic Workers be allowed to change employer to give them a real and practical route out of exploitation without the then possibility of a precarious immigration status and risk to livelihood. The report states ‘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’. It recommended that workers be allowed to apply for annual visa extensions of up to 2 years which was the minimum required to give effective protection to those who had been abused while in the UK. The review concluded that ‘informed, empowered and safe workers will be more likely to support or even initiate such enquiries [against their employers] than embattled, insecure and frightened workers’.

On 7 March the Minister accepted that Overseas Domestic Workers should be provided an immediate escape route from abuse and permitted that they be allowed to change employer and work during the term of their initial six month visa on which they were admitted to the UK. However, in reality abused workers who do leave their employer will have just a few months or weeks remaining on their visa in which to find work as a domestic worker and will likely be doing so without any references. This will not prove attractive to prospective employers. Overseas Domestic Workers will be left with a choice of remaining in an exploitative situation, risk entering into a new one or with no work and no recourse to public funds, becoming destitute. Kalayaan remains of the view that a right to change employer in the first six months will not lead to workers having greater confidence in reporting their employers to the authorities and will not enable them to safely enter into a new working relationship. It will strengthen the hand of the exploitative employer who will know it is unlikely domestic workers will change employers given the difficulties in finding work in such a short period.

Abolishing the visa tie

The government also refused to accept one of the independent report’s main recommendations and abolish the visa system in which Overseas Domestic Workers are tied to their employers.  Lord Hylton, a long time supporter of domestic workers rights and Labour Peer Lord Rosser tabled an amendment to the bill which gave effect to the main recommendations of the Ewins’ review which was passed in the House of Lords but later defeated in the Commons. The government believes that relaxing the visa tie may lead to a revolving door of abuse where employers remain unidentified and are free to recycle the abuse onto the next worker. They argue that the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the vehicle to report abuse and for victims to access support.

This concern was addressed in the Ewins’ review which suggested that any change of employer be registered with the Home Office who could pass the information to the police to consider commencing an investigation. This recommendation would have alleviated the evidential burden placed on victims by entering into the NRM.

The government’s position also fails to recognise that the NRM was and still is not designed to deal with the problems and abuse faced by domestic workers tied to their employers. The government has proffered that victims who are identified as having been trafficked and meeting the internationally defined requirement in the Council of Europe Convention will be allowed to apply for a 2 year visa, up from the 6 months provided for by the Modern Slavery Act 2015.  This will be of no use however to domestic workers who have been abused by their employer but who do not meet the definition of having been trafficked for the purposes of exploitation. Kalayaan envisages that domestic workers with no option but to be referred into the NRM will receive negative decisions on the grounds that they have fabricated allegations against employers to try and remain in the UK.

In 2015, 353 adults were referred into the NRM to be identified as having been trafficked for the purposes of domestic servitude. There is no distinction made whether this number is solely for those who came to the UK on the Overseas Domestic Worker visa. Of those who did come on the Overseas Domestic Worker visa, there are no figures confirming how many of these received positive conclusive grounds decisions and how many of those applied and were successfully granted a domestic worker visa.[1]

Other changes

The government has agreed to implement the Ewins’ second key recommendation of mandatory information meetings for domestic workers who remain in the UK for more than 42 days. The provision of independent information, advice and support in a format and language domestic workers can understand is of fundamental importance so they are aware of and are able to enforce their rights while at work in the UK. Kalayaan looks forward to seeing how this recommendation will be implemented and monitored.

The government has also stated that they want to refocus their checks on employers to ensure that they can better prevent them bringing more domestic workers to the UK when they do not comply with requirements. The government has said they will introduce this by changes to the Immigration Rules later this year.[2]  It remains to be seen how the government will punish abusive employers and whether this will act as a sufficient deterrent.

Right to work

Domestic workers who are referred into the NRM during the duration of their initial 6 month visa will be permitted to continue working for so long as their case is being considered. Those who come to the attention of the authorities as a potential victim after 6 months and are then referred into the NRM will need to wait until a decision is made whether the government conclusively accepts they are a victim before they can then apply for a visa. In some cases, Kalayaan has had clients waiting for over a year before a decision is made at the conclusive grounds stage. This is a time of extreme worry and confusion for vulnerable domestic workers.

A victim’s ability to utilise this provision hinges on the delivery of information to overseas domestic workers when they apply for entry clearance to the UK and their attendance at information meetings. If domestic workers are not informed of their rights and entitlements in a language they can understand, they will not be able to enforce them and they may remain in situations of abuse.

If a victim is issued a conclusive grounds decision, they must apply for a visa within 28 days of receiving confirmation from the Home Office. There is no fee for this application. The Home Office website says that a victim of trafficking does not need to have a job when they apply for this visa[3] but victims must provide evidence of their finances and how they plan to maintain and accommodate themselves without recourse to public funds. This will prove nigh impossible for those who have been residing in safe house accommodation and have not had permission to work whilst a decision on their trafficking claim is being considered. Many will have been out of work for a long period of time and will be without references.

The current guidance to Competent Authorities states that ‘the expectation is that a Conclusive Grounds decision will be made as soon as possible following day 45 of the recovery and reflection period. There is no target to make a conclusive grounds decision within 45 days. The timescale for making a conclusive grounds decision will be based on all the circumstances of the case.’[4] Given that domestic workers will not know when a decision can be expected or what that decision will be, they will be unable to start searching for work and speaking with prospective employers. It is also unclear how long a domestic worker will have to find a job if the visa is issued on the basis that it allows individuals to remain in the UK so long as they are employed full time in a private household.

These changes will ultimately leave domestic workers without the security and safety they need in order to move forward and rebuild their lives.

For more information please contact Avril Sharp at Kalayaan: avril@kalayaan.org.uk.

[1] http://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/publications/national-referral-mechanism-statistics/676-national-referral-mechanism-statistics-end-of-year-summary-2015/file

[2] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2016-04-25/debates/16042535000002/ImmigrationBill

[3] https://www.gov.uk/domestic-workers-in-a-private-household-visa/victim-slavery-human-trafficking

[4]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/521763/Victims_of_modern_slavery_-_Competent_Authority_guidance_v3_0.pdf


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 kate@kalayaan.org.uk or
020 7243 2942


We made the Liberty Human Rights Award 2015 Shortlist

In recognition of the importance of the struggle of migrant domestic workers to regain their basic rights Kalayaan has been nominated for a Liberty Human Rights Award in the category ‘Close to Home’. We are delighted to have our and others work recognised in this way and hope that the nomination will in some way contribute to the struggle to untie the binding of migrant domestic workers to their employers in the immigration rules.


Write to your MP asking them to keep protections for migrant domestic workers in the Modern Slavery Bill

Please write to your MP asking them to support the continued inclusion of protections for migrant domestic workers in the Modern Slavery Bill.

Wednesday 25th February was a historic win for migrant domestic workers in the UK when Peers in the House of Lords voted to include important protections against slavery for migrant domestic workers in the Modern Slavery Bill. It is important that these protections remain in the Bill and are not removed if there is a vote on this matter in the House of Commons.

There is not much time. If the Government proposes any amendment to take out these protections this would be likely to be debated during the week of the 9th March.

If you don’t know who your MP is, you can find out here

Feel welcome to use the template letter below. You letter will of course be more powerful if you also use some of your own words. Please make sure you include your full address in the letter so your MP knows that you are one of their constituents:

NAME MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

Dear NAME MP

I am writing to ask if you, my MP, will support the continued inclusion of an important clause to protect migrant domestic workers from slavery in the Modern Slavery Bill.

On the 25th February Peers in the House of Lords voted to include an important amendment, which (i) allows migrant domestic workers in the UK to change employer, (ii) if in employment as a domestic workers to apply to renew their visa, and (iii) to grant those found to have been a victim of slavery a temporary three month visa to give them a chance to find a decent job and begin to rebuild their lives.

Until the Peers voted to include these important protections the Bill did nothing to address the fact that since April 2012 migrant domestic workers have been tied by the immigration rules to the named employer with who they entered the UK on a 6 month, non renewable visa. This means that those who are mistreated or abused have to either endure this treatment, or escape and in doing so breach the terms of their visa.

Reports by migrant domestic workers who approach Kalayaan, a small charity in London, for support show that, as well as stripping workers of options once they escape, the treatment of workers has also worsened with the removal of the basic right of being able to leave their job without breaking the law. Workers on the tied visa are more likely to have been physically abused, never allowed out of their employers’ house, to sleep in the lounge or kitchen and to work more than 16 hours a day.

Between April 2012 and 2014 Kalayaan staff internally assessed more than double (69%) of those who were tied by their visa to their employer as trafficked in contrast with 26% of those who had not been tied.

Migrant domestic workers have long been recognised as particularly vulnerable to abuse because of their dependence on one employer for their work, their visa, most information about the UK and their accommodation. The tied visa tipped this inbalance in power further still, with most workers having their employer’s name written on their visa and being unable to resign from their job lawfully, no matter what their employer did to them.

The Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill found that ‘In the case of the domestic worker’ visa, policy changes have unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery’. The Committee called on the Government to take immediate action. The Peers have now ensured that the necessary protections to reverse these policy changes are in the Bill and that if the Bill passes as is domestic workers will be able to escape abuse without fearing that they are breaking the law. I very much hope that as my MP you will support the continued inclusion of the amendment in the Bill if there is a vote on the matter.

Yours sincerely,

YOUR NAME


Lords vote to protect migrant domestic workers

An important amendment to include vital protections for migrant domestic workers has been voted into the Modern Slavery Bill by the House of Lords on the 25th February 2015. It allows domestic workers to change employer, meaning they can escape abusive employment without fear of breaching the immigration rules.

The vote was won by 183 to 176. We are hopeful that the Government will recognise the importance of these protections and they will go on to become law.

The Amendment, tabled by Lord Hylton, Baroness Royall of Blasidon, The Lord Bishop of Carlisle and Baroness Hanham is as follows.

Insert the following new Clause—

“Protection from slavery for overseas domestic workers

All overseas domestic workers in the United Kingdom, including those
working for staff of diplomatic missions, shall be entitled to—

(a) change their employer (but not work sector) while in the United
Kingdom;

(b) renew their domestic worker or diplomatic domestic worker visa,
each such renewal being for a period not exceeding twelve months,
as long as they remain in employment and are able to support
themselves without recourse to public funds;

(c) a three month temporary visa permitting them to live in the United
Kingdom for the purposes of seeking alternative employment as an
overseas domestic worker where there is evidence that the worker
has been a victim of modern slavery.”


Do you want to end the tying of domestic workers to their employers?

ITV’s Exposure programme ‘Britain’s Secret Slaves’ shown on the 19th January 2015 highlights the real impacts of tying migrant domestic workers to their employers.

Please consider writing to your MP and asking them where they stand on this issue. Kalayaan would be grateful to see copies of any replies you receive.

If you don’t know who your MP is you can find out here

You are welcome to adapt and use the template letter below.

XXXXXXX MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

Dear XXXXXX MP,

Britain’s Secret Slaves: Migrant domestic workers
You may have seen ITV’s recent Exposure programme ‘Britain’s Secret Slaves’ which examined the situation of migrant domestic workers in the UK. The programme found that the result of changes to the visa system introduced in April 2012 is that migrant domestic workers are vulnerable to shocking exploitation and are criminalised when they escape.
The current system requires domestic workers to enter on a six month tied visa which prohibits them leaving their employer, no matter how they are treated. It replaces a system which had been recognised both nationally and internationally as providing vital protection to migrant domestic workers.
Since domestic workers have been tied to employers reported exploitation to the NGO Kalayaan has increased including;
• workers having no time off (79%),
• having their passports taken from them (78%),
• Not allowed out of the house unaccompanied (71%), and
• being paid little or nothing (60% paid less than £50/ week).

Physical, psychological and sexual abuse is also reported. This treatment is illegal in the UK yet as the workers cannot leave and go to the authorities – because to do so will immediately make them illegal immigrants – the employers are getting away with it.
The original migrant domestic worker visa worked well. Domestic workers were recognised as workers under UK law and could leave an employer. They had no recourse to public funds and work was limited to one full time job as a domestic worker in a private household. This meant there was no reason to leave unless working conditions were poor.
The Modern Slavery Bill as it stands currently provides no meaningful protections for migrant domestic workers. The Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill recently described the 2012 tied visa as unintentionally strengthening the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery and stated that ‘the moral case for revisiting this issue is urgent and overwhelming. Protecting these victims does not require primary legislation and we call on the Government to take immediate action.’ Unbelievably the Government have rejected this recommendation.
I would like to know where you, my MP, stand on this issue. Please would you reassure me that you oppose the current system and support the Joint Committee’s recommendation to reverse the tied visa and to reintroduce the rights of migrant domestic workers in the UK?
Yours sincerely,
xxxxx


Migrant domestic workers; the gap in the Modern Slavery Bill

The Modern Slavery Bill is currently going through the House of Lords. Committee Stage consideration of the Modern Slavery Bill has now finished. Amendment 94 in the names of Baroness Cox, Lord Alton of Liverpool, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon and Lord Hylton which would provide vital  protections for Overseas Domestic Workers was debated on the 12 December and received substantial cross party support. We are hopeful that the Government will now consider the effects of tying migrant domestic workers to their employers and how this both facilitates their abuse and undermines the Bill and reinstate the pre 2012 protections for migrant domestic workers in the immigration rules. If not we are confident that a similar amendment will continue to receive strong support at Report Stage early 2015.


Our Story – The Experience of Migrant Domestic Workers

This moving film was made in 2010 by migrant domestic workers advocacy group Kalayaan and Justice 4 Domestic Workers. It was funded by the Workers Education Association (WEA) Tackling Race and Inequalities Fund (TRIF). It was updated in 2014 to reflect the current issue of tied visas for domestic workers.