In response to the global staffing crisis, Britain called out to workers in other countries to help ease the pressure. However, many of them ended up paying thousands of dollars in illegal fees.
After leaving her home in India, Meera Stephen came to Britain to work at a nursing home. She was one of thousands of workers who came to the country to help fill the thousands of vacancies in the social care industry.
The job she was offered was a bit higher than the minimum wage, but it came with a price. In exchange for her services, she would have to pay a recruitment agent around 1.3 million Indian rupees.
Stephen is one of the many migrant workers who are being charged to work in the country’s care industry.
It’s illegal for employers to require workers to pay for their recruitment services, which is against international labor standards.
This issue has been exposed in the Gulf and Dubai, as well as in Qatar, where migrant workers were involved in various construction projects related to the World Cup.
An investigation by the Observer has revealed that a growing number of recruitment agencies are charging their clients for the services they provide. These firms are mainly involved in the recruitment of workers for domiciliary care and nursing homes.
Many of the workers from countries such as India, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe came to the UK through a new visa scheme that was introduced in February. They were charged up to £18,000 in illegal fees.
Although many of the workers are reluctant to speak out about their experience, the practice of charging them for their recruitment services is widespread. Through interviews and data analysis, the Observer has been able to confirm that many recruitment agencies are charging their clients.
Recruiters typically target workers in developing countries, such as Africa and Asia, who are looking for a good job and a “dream life” in the UK. They use social media and word of mouth to lure them into their homes.
The cost of the visa application is £247. This is the same as the recruitment fee that the employer should pay.
In an undercover interview with an undercover reporter, an agency from India said that it would charge candidates around £17,800 for arranging a job in the UK.
An agency would typically charge around £1,500 for an interview, and around £4,000 for a letter of offer, and around £3,500 for a visa. The rest of the fee would be collected once the worker reaches the UK.
Another agency, which we are not identifying to protect the victims’ identities, demanded a fee of £4,000 from a worker for securing them a job as a healthcare assistant in a nursing home.
According to an offer letter seen by the Observer, the firm explained that the fee would cover the processing of a certificate of sponsorship. It had also asked for a fee of around two months’ pay.
The fees are likely to be illegal as they are related to the recruitment process, which is covered by the International Labor Organization’s definition of prohibited fees. These include any costs that are incurred in the process of securing a job or placement, regardless of the location or timing of the collection.
Due to the fees, many care workers became trapped in debt bondage, a form of modern slavery that involves collecting money from their clients to pay off their debts. Suspected victims said that their agents would deduct money from their salaries and prevent them from obtaining their passports.
Meera Stephen said she was working to pay off her debt while she was in the UK. Before she came to the country, she had borrowed money from her friends to cover the initial costs. However, she still owes around £3,700. The agent is still holding her residence permit, which is proof of her immigration status, until the payment is made.
Some of the victims of this situation claim that they were not given the proper working conditions and were threatened with abuse and threats.
In one instance, a woman was sent to rural Wales after she was told that she would be working in Birmingham. Her visa was tied to her employer, and she was unable to leave her home due to the lack of transportation. Joe Joseph, a campaign activist from Kerala, said that people are afraid that they will be fired if they speak out against the recruitment firm.
Some workers are also reluctant to leave their jobs due to the contractual arrangements that they have with their employers. These include repayment clauses, which are commonly used in the private healthcare industry. Usually, these agreements require workers to pay a fee if they wish to leave their positions.
John Ncube, who came from Zimbabwe to the UK earlier this year, said that he had to borrow money from his relatives to pay for the administration fee that he had to pay for finding his new job.
Despite working overtime, he was still left with nothing after expenses such as rent, food, and other expenses. He was unable to leave his job due to a repayment clause that requires him to pay almost £4,000 if he decides to leave within two years.
It’s depressing and frustrating to see people pushing themselves to the limit. They don’t understand what’s happening to them.
Many people in India do not realize that recruitment fees are illegal. Even if they did, many would still go ahead and pay them. The employers and agents see their desperation.
The report highlights the issue of modern slavery in Britain, as the country is struggling with a shortage of skilled nursing and care workers.
In February, the government added the shortage of skilled nursing and care workers to its list of occupations. This allowed foreign nationals to come to Britain if they are sponsored by an employer.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, claimed that the scheme would help alleviate the country’s shortage of skilled nursing and care workers. However, four months later, it has been revealed that the route is being exploited by rogue recruitment agencies.
According to new figures, the issue of recruitment fees is a part of a wider problem that’s being exploited in the healthcare industry. Kate Terroni, the chief inspector for adult social care in England, noted that there had been a significant rise in the number of referrals for modern slavery in the country in 2022. There have been 14 cases so far this year, which is five times the total number of cases in 2020.
Unseen UK, the charity which runs the national modern slavery helpline, said it saw 78 potential victims of modern slavery and labour exploitation in the care sector in 2021, double the 2020 figure.
According to the Observer, there have been cases of workers being exploited in the care industry through illegal routes. In one instance, a young woman from West Africa was forced to work as a domciliary carer after her husband got a student visa. The teenager’s family thought she was going to work in a beauty industry, but she was actually working for a UK agency using a fake identity.
Some NHS trusts also use repayment clauses, which allow workers to leave their contract before it ends. They also require that they pay a fee if they wish to leave.
According to Debbie Ariyo, the chair of the BME anti-slavery network, a teenager was forced to work up to 10 hours a day and seven days a week, while her money went into a bank account controlled by someone else. She also said that the workers would call her whenever she wasn’t at work.
Kanlungan, a charity that supports Filipinos, also identified a case where a couple came with their son after they were offered jobs as physiotherapists.
Upon reaching their destination, they realized that they were being forced to work as care workers instead. They were then moved around and made to earn below minimum wage. Their employers threatened them with homelessness if they didn’t work, and they were also told that they would be reported to the Home Office if they didn’t perform their duties.
The Home Office has also been working with local agencies to address the issue of modern slavery in the care sector. In the past few months, they have carried out raids and arrested several individuals for various offences.
Due to the issue of modern slavery in the care sector, various groups have called for changes to the Home Office’s visa sponsorship system and the way it monitors the recruitment process. They have also suggested that job ads be placed on a government website.
There are also calls for the recruitment industry to be licensed by the General Land Administration (GALA). This would mean that all agencies that provide work-finding services within the UK would have to follow certain conditions. These include ensuring that they don’t charge a fee for any services, and that they can inspect and investigate potential issues.
According to Neill Wilkins, the head of the migrant workers’ program at the Institute for Human Rights & Business, recruitment fees are trapping workers in harsh working conditions. He called for urgent action to address these issues.
Neill Wilkins also refuted the notion of modern slavery, which some people believe is a type of punishment that involves chains and incarceration. He said that these are not the same things that people think.