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Dispatches: A Chance to Protect UK’s Migrant Domestic Workers

Working up to 18 hours per day for weeks without breaks or a day off. Being paid little, or not at all. Locked in their employers’ home, fed food scraps, their passports confiscated. These abuses can amount to modern slavery as defined by the United Kingdom government.

These are not stories from distant lands, but of migrant domestic workers I interviewed in London. On Monday, parliamentarians can help these workers escape abuse. Members of parliament should support an amendment to the Immigration Bill, introduced in the House of Lords, which would allow migrant domestic workers to change employer and work in the UK for a period of at least two-and-a-half years.

The UK government introduced in 2012 a system that “ties” migrant domestic workers’ visas to their employers who are visiting the UK. If these employers are abusive, it forces their domestic workers to choose between staying and enduring the abuse, or leaving and becoming undocumented migrants. Last December, an independent reviewer commissioned by the government recommended that migrant domestic workers be able to change employers and extend their stay for a total period of two-and-a-half years. As a response, the government recently changed the immigration rules to allow them to leave their employer and work for someone else, but after six months in the UK, they have to leave the country. The government also announced that those found to be victims of slavery or human trafficking would be able to remain in the UK – with the right to change employer – for up to two years, instead of six months, as the law currently provides.

These changes fall far short of addressing the needs of some of the most vulnerable workers in the world. Given the nature of domestic work, workers are unlikely to find a job if their new employers know they will have to leave within six months of being in the country. The right to change employer and work as a domestic worker in the UK for at least two-and-a-half years would be key for workers who may otherwise be afraid to report abuse. It would also send a powerful message to employers that they do not control their employees’ legal status.

The government has repeatedly failed to give migrant domestic workers the protection they urgently need. Parliamentarians should not miss their opportunity to do so.
 

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