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14 Nov 2023

Work Rights Centre

Report: The systemic drivers of migrant worker exploitation in the UK

See all tags Allegations

In 2022, the Home Office issued over 236,000 employer-sponsored visas. This is a visa category that only allows migrant workers to come to the UK if they have a job offer from a business licensed by the Home Office, and prevents them from working anywhere but for the business that sponsored them. 

Migrant workers sponsored this way make a crucial contribution to sectors like the NHS and care, at a time when the UK is struggling with labour shortages, and public services are under pressure. And yet, despite their role in the British economy and social fabric, they face the serious risk of exploitation...

Vulnerable migrants are being forced by their sponsors to accept exploitative work conditions due to the short time frame, high cost, and administrative difficulty involved in changing jobs. With just 60 days to change sponsors and obtain a new visa, many are reluctant to report exploitation for fear that doing so will lead to their visas being cancelled. This allows unscrupulous employers to operate without impunity, comfortable in the knowledge that the Home Office is unlikely to ever investigate. 

The number of businesses licensed to sponsor migrant workers has more than doubled over the past three years, but the Home Office appears unlikely to provide the oversight needed to regulate them... 

The risks derived from the employer-sponsored visa system are also amplified by the UK’s severely under-resourced and fragmented labour enforcement system. Divided across a complex web of agencies, with unclear and overlapping remits, and just a fraction of the number of labour inspectors recommended by the International Labour Organisation, the UK’s labour enforcement system is poorly equipped to identify and support the needs of migrant workers.