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New UK visa rules for foreign domestic workers may facilitate widespread abuse

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Ivana Davidovic
WVoN co-editor 

Home Secretary Theresa May has announced changes to the visa rules for foreign domestic workers, which campaigners say could leave them open to abuse and deportation if they seek help from the authorities.

Under these plans, foreign cooks, nannies and other household staff will not be allowed to switch employers or to stay in the country for longer than six months.

Domestic staff working for foreign diplomats will be covered by current arrangements, but they will not be allowed to settle in the UK or bring dependents.

Jenny Moss of charity Kalayaan, which supports migrant domestic workers, said: “The decision to remove the right to change employer, and therefore remove an important protection from abuse, turns the clock back 15 years to the days when domestic workers were deported for experiencing abuse.”

Migrant domestic workers are vulnerable to sometimes horrific abuse and exploitation as has come to light in a number of recent high profile cases in the criminal courts.

Of the 326 individuals who registered with Kalayaan in 2011, 76 per cent were not allowed a day off, 53 per cent worked 16 hours-a-day and 60 per cent were paid under £50 per week.

Campaigners are worried that the proposed changes will greatly reduce the likelihood that foreign domestic workers would seek help from the authorities for fear of being deported and that this policy would lead to the victims becoming ‘illegal’ and perpetrators going unpunished.

Audrey Guichon from Anti-Slavery International said: “The UK’s treatment of domestic workers will now mirror the situation across the Middle East through the internationally condemned kafala system, where the lack of right to change employer without losing the right to residency has led to widespread abuse and high levels of domestic worker suicide.”

The Home Secretary said that written terms and conditions of employment would be required before workers could come to the UK.

These plans are a part of a wider immigration reform scheduled to be introduced in April 2016, which is designed to break the link between the number of years that a legal migrant spends in the UK and permanent settlement.

The home secretary wants to take away the right to remain in Britain for more than five years from any migrant worker earning less than £35,000 a year.

Matt Cavanagh of the think-tank the Institute of Public Policy Research said: “This makes no sense in economic terms, will cause big problems for employers, and is unfair on individual migrants.

“It could also discourage the ‘brightest and best’ from coming here in the first place.

“The majority of working migrants don’t stay permanently anyway, but they value the option, and if Britain no longer offers it, they may go elsewhere.”

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