Employment

'Care sector is on its knees': How Tory crackdown on overseas care workers will fuel exploitation

In a bid to reduce migration, the government is stopping overseas care workers from bringing dependents. But an expert has warned it could push more into exploitation

Home Secretary James Cleverly argues the ban is needed to reduce migration. Image: House of Lords/Flickr

Vulnerable migrants will be pushed into exploitation by the government’s new ban on care workers bringing dependents to the UK, the leader of a work rights charity has warned.

The ban came into force this week as part of the government’s efforts to reduce migration to the UK, with home secretary James Cleverly saying it will help deliver the “biggest-ever cut in migration.”

But Dr Dora-Olivia Vicol, CEO of the Work Rights Centre, said the story of one man supported by the charity demonstrated the harm the ban could cause.

Coming from India, the man had been promised a job as a carer, and paid £20,000 to an illegal recruiter. When he arrived, he realised he had been scammed and that there was no job. However, his wife, who came with him, was able to work.

“If he had been alone, he would have faced complete destitution,” said Vicol.

“When an individual is faced with a crushing debt and destitution, they are more vulnerable to exploitation or human trafficking. 

“People smugglers prey on migrants who are isolated and desperate by offering them cash-in-hand work that traps them in a cycle of illegality and debt. Our client believes he was approached by such people, but due to the financial support of his wife, he was able to avoid falling into such a desperate situation.”

‘Criminal groups are tricking and exploiting migrants who simply want to work,” said Dr Dora-Olivia Vicol. Image: Work Rights Centre

In response to net migration to the UK reaching a record 745,000 in 2022, the government also increased the income threshold for spousal visas, arguing migrant workers must be able to support those they bring with them.

Hospitality businesses have also told The Big Issue that a higher income threshold to sponsor workers for a visa will make it harder to recruit skilled staff needed to keep the lights on.

With the UK facing a shortage of care workers, Rishi Sunak has been told his plan will be a “seismic step backwards” for the sector.

Rather than increasing restrictions on migrant workers, Vicol added, the government should focus on increasing their rights.

“Britain’s care sector is on its knees, and there are thousands of overseas care workers who want to work safely and legally in care. But criminal groups are tricking and exploiting migrants who simply want to work,” said Vicol. 

“The government must improve the labour enforcement bodies that are supposed to keep all workers safe from exploitation. The work-sponsorship system that ties migrant care workers to their employer should be reformed, to give workers the freedom to leave an exploitative or fake employer, and take their labour to a safe and legitimate one.”

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