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New report by Kalayaan details increase in abuse of migrant domestic workers after 2012 visa changes


Charity working with migrant domestic workers calls on incoming government to restore the pre-2012 visa regime

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Kalayaan, which is a charity that supports migrant domestic workers in the UK, released a new report on Friday that details how the abuse experienced by domestic workers has increased significantly since major changes were made to the domestic worker visa in April 2012.

Report coverThe 48-page report, 12 years of modern slavery: The smokescreen used to deflect state accountability for migrant domestic workers, can be downloaded here.

Avril Sharp, the author of the report, explains: "For the past 12 years, migrant domestic workers have been subjected to exploitation, trapped working for abusive employers and left with no options to seek redress or safety. Unless their treatment meets the legal definition of trafficking or modern slavery, these workers fall into a gap in the UK's protection measures where they are entirely hidden from view and at high risk of being preyed upon by unscrupulous employers looking to exploit their drive to provide for their loved ones."

The report seeks to demonstrate clearly and unequivocally how the Conservative government's legislative and policy framework has put migrant domestic workers at risk for the past 12 years.

Kalayaan says that the visa changes introduced in 2012 under David Cameron as part of an objective to reduce net migration saw domestic workers stripped of their labour law rights, with their protections placed within a trafficking framework.

This reduction in rights failed to reduce the number of domestic worker visas issued, but it did produce a significant increase in rates of worker exploitation.

"Government data tells us that from 2005 to 2022, the number of visas issued to migrant domestic workers has remained consistent at around 20,000 per year so rather than reducing this number, the only thing that has been achieved has been to strip this workforce of their rights and make them highly vulnerable to abuse. Once workers arrive in the UK, there is no monitoring of their working conditions by any labour inspectorate or other UK agency, so the full extent of the abuse experienced by this workforce is unclear", the report states.

By assessing the experiences of over 2,000 migrant domestic workers, Kalayaan's report presents what it believes to be the largest body of evidence available on the subject.

Kalayaan noted: "The evidence is damning. It demonstrates that instances of abuse rose significantly following changes to the visa made in 2012 which restricted the ability of workers to change employers without restriction. Further changes to the visa terms introduced in 2016 have made little difference."

The report describes in detail how the previous Government relied on 8 myths to reject calls to reinstate labour law rights for migrant domestic workers. Kalayaan says these myths are "a smokescreen for the state's failure to ensure our legal system does not facilitate the abuse and exploitation of this workforce."

In concluding, Kalayaan makes just one simple recommendation: "The Government must no longer seek to hide behind myths that are not rooted in evidence, and which do not meet the needs of workers. We urge the incoming Government to restore the pre-2012 visa regime with rights to ensure the safety and dignity of all workers whilst at work in the UK."