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May 4, 2020

Migrant domestic workers must not be forgotten in the fight to battle coronavirus

Kalayaan has been closely following government guidance with respect to the various provisions being introduced in response to coronavirus. We welcome many of these measures to alleviate the distress faced by some of the most vulnerable groups in society. We do however remain concerned that the unique circumstances facing migrant domestic workers has not been considered in the government’s response to date.

Kalayaan has received a number of reports from workers and those supporting them that they have been dismissed without cause or notice and face homelessness, destitution and exposure to the virus placing themselves and others at risk. We have also heard reports that workers are having to endure abuse and exploitation for fear that they will be thrown out and have no form of support available to them.

The terms of the Overseas Domestic Worker visa are that workers are employed full time for one employer and have no recourse to public funds. (Workers are not permitted to be self-employed). This means that those who are dismissed, perhaps because of an employer’s personal financial situation, are in breach of the terms of their visa and have no access to support including housing or financial assistance. Government advice remains that if you are in the UK with limited leave to remain and plan to remain here and apply to extend your visa, you must continue to do this. For those workers who have been laid off and are unable to find re-employment, they face becoming undocumented, at risk of exploitation and having to do battle with the hostile environment.

On 17 April 2020, Kalayaan raised our concerns in a letter to the Ministers of Immigration and Safeguarding together with recommendations to keep this vulnerable workforce safe and prevent them from remaining in situations of abuse or having to accept precarious employment to avoid destitution. Our letter can be found here.

Among our recommendations, we are calling on the government to suspend the No Recourse to Public Funds condition for all ODW visa holders, including victims of modern slavery, to enable them to access the support they will need in the event their employment is terminated or if they need to flee an abusive employer. We also recommend a concession for ODW visa holders with an automatic extension of 6 months to their leave to enable them to be safe during the lockdown, adhere to government guidance on social distancing measures and remain documented.

Update: 1 June 2020

The Home Office responded to Kalayaan’s letter on 13 May 2020. Unfortunately this failed to engage with the substance of the issues we raised. We have written to them again asking they consider the recommendations we set out to ensure that all ODW visa holders are protected during the pandemic.

Our letter in response can be found here.

For details of other campaigns we are supporting during the pandemic, check out our Publications page here.