Abena, a migrant worker from southern Africa, recounted how she had been repeatedly raped by her manager at a UK care home but felt unable to report him to the police out of fear of losing her job and her visa.

Bernice, from the Caribbean, shared her experience of being sexually harassed by her landlord in the accommodation arranged by her employer, who sponsored her work in the UK.

Chidera, a live-in carer from Ghana, recalled a time when she went nearly four months without a day off. After complaining to a manager, she was threatened with dismissal and having her visa revoked.

These are just a few of the stories shared by migrant care workers who travelled to the UK to fill vacancies but found themselves exploited and silenced. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), collaborating with Citizens Advice, gathered testimonies from almost 175 individuals working for approximately 80 care providers via the health and care worker visa. Their accounts revealed a pervasive fear among this crucial section of the social care workforce to raise concerns about labour abuses, largely due to the visa system tying their right to stay and work in the UK to their employers. Any complaint, even if upheld, could trigger a countdown, leaving them with barely two months to avoid the risk of deportation.

Kayley Hignell, interim director of policy at Citizens Advice, expressed deep concern, stating, “We work on a lot of difficult issues at Citizens Advice, but this is one of the most heartbreaking because of our limited ability to help people find a way forward.”

Andrew Gwynne MP, the shadow minister for social care, echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the government’s failure to address the crisis in social care and the urgent need to prevent the exploitation of overseas workers.

Early last year, staff at Citizens Advice observed an uptick in calls from individuals on the health and care worker visa in the UK, prompting the organization to collect information to assess the extent of the problem. A total of 150 workers provided evidence, though the true number affected is believed to be much higher.

The charity shared anonymized details about the callers with TBIJ as part of an investigation into exploitative working conditions faced by migrants in the UK.

In their accounts to Citizens Advice and TBIJ, care workers described experiencing various forms of exploitation, including wage theft, exorbitant recruitment fees, reduced hours, and destitution due to poor working conditions in the care sector. One recurring theme was the feeling of being trapped due to visa arrangements penalizing whistleblowing, with workers dependent on their employers for their right to remain and work in the UK.

Approximately 30% of those mistreated at work admitted to being afraid to raise concerns about their managers or employers, fearing reprisals such as losing their jobs and visas, as well as threats to their safety.

Abena, for instance, disclosed to Citizens Advice that she had been raped by her care home manager but chose not to involve the police, fearing repercussions. Bernice, who experienced sexual harassment from her landlord while employed as a carer, similarly refrained from lodging a complaint due to the risk of job loss outlined in her contract.

A Home Office spokesperson condemned the exploitation of health and care worker visa holders, pledging to crack down on illegal activity in the labour market.

The situation underscores a glaring power imbalance, with workers feeling powerless to speak out against abuses for fear of losing their livelihoods and facing deportation. Efforts to address this issue are imperative to safeguard the rights and well-being of migrant care workers in the UK.

source: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism


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