Modern Slavery Bill

Written evidence submitted by Kalayaan (MS 18)

Kalayaan is an expert organisation on issues effecting migrant domestic workers in the UK and is the principal organisation which works to provide direct support and advice to these individuals. Kalayaan is also a recognised ‘First Responder’ and so can refer individuals identified as potential victims of trafficking to the Government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM). The evidence for this inquiry has been prepared by Kate Roberts who has worked with migrant domestic workers at Kalayaan since 2005.

Since its inception in 1987, Kalayaan has provided advice, advocacy and support services to migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in the UK. These are workers who enter the UK accompanying their employer to work in the employer’s private home. The immigration rules at that time admitted migrant domestic workers to the UK under a ‘concession’ which tied migrant domestic workers to the employer with whom they entered the UK. There were no safeguards in place for domestic workers who were abused or exploited or for those who had become undocumented having fled abuse experienced in their domestic work place. In response to the evidence of widespread abuse of workers brought to the UK under the concession, the Overseas Domestic Worker visa was introduced in 1998 [1] . This gave important protection to the visa holders in the form of an immigration status which allowed them to change employer (though not work sector) and recognition as a worker in the UK giving protections under employment law. These protections remained in place until the visa was changed on the 6 April 2012.

Executive summary

Since 6 April 2012 migrant domestic workers who accompany employers to the UK do so on the tied Overseas Domestic Worker (ODW) visa. The visa holder is tied to their original employer and the visa is not renewable beyond its initial 6 month duration. These changes have had a direct and significant impact on the level of control that can be now exercised by employers over the domestic workers they employ and on the number of workers who are able to seek help and assistance as well as on the options open to workers who do escape abuse. From the evidence we have seen at Kalayaan it is clear that the tying of domestic workers to their employers has given employers a clear message that the worker is in effect their private responsibility during their time in the UK with worrying results. The Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill found that

‘In the case of the domestic worker's visa, policy changes have unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery. The moral case for revisiting this issue is urgent and overwhelming’ [2]

The Joint Committees findings are correlated with all other research on the effects of the visa and by the reports by workers on the tied visa who have registered with Kalayaan. In spite of this the Government has rejected the Committee’s recommendation to reverse the 2012 changes to the visa which would have reinstated what the 2009 Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into Trafficking named as

‘ the single most important issue in preventing the forced labour and trafficking of such workers’ [3]

Tied visa regimes have been criticised internationally by human rights organisations as encouraging abuse including trafficking and slavery [4] . The tied Overseas Domestic Worker visa undermines the aims of the Modern Slavery Bill, facilitating the abuse of migrant domestic workers. The Anti Trafficking Monitoring Group have produced an Alternative Bill [5] . Section 19 of this Bill details the protections needed by migrant domestic workers in the UK. The protections must also cover migrant domestic workers who are employed by diplomats. If the UK is serious about introducing a Modern Slavery Bill which is effective the Bill as it stands must be amended to include these protections.

Driven Underground: Reports of abuse have increased yet fewer victims are coming forward for help

1. The numbers of workers on the tied visa coming to us for support and advice have dropped in comparison with those on the original visa in spite of the numbers of visas being issued remaining consistent (there was a slight increase in 2013). However, of the workers on the tied visa who registered at Kalayaan in the year since the tied visa was introduced, the reports of control and deprivation of autonomy or freedom have increased. It appears clear that the reason fewer domestic workers are coming to Kalayaan is either because they are physically prevented from leaving, or they are too scared to leave as they have no money, documents and have been told by their employers that they are prohibited by the immigration rules from leaving them. Otherwise they have escaped and are too scared to approach Kalayaan for advice or have been told that the help we can give them in practise under the new rules is now extremely limited and of little practical use to them. We are concerned that vulnerable victims of trafficking for domestic servitude have been criminalised by the act of escaping their abuse and instead of coming forward for help will instead be abused again.

2. Between 6 April 2012 and 3 April 2014 402 new migrant domestic workers registered with Kalayaan. Of these 120 were tied to their employers having entered the UK on the tied visa or on the diplomatic domestic worker visa. The remaining 282 workers had entered the UK prior to April 2012 on the original ODW visa and so were permitted to change employers.

New workers registering with Kalayaan give a report of their treatment in the job with which they entered the UK. It is noticeable that those who entered on a visa which tied them to their employers (the tied or the diplomatic domestic worker visa) reported significantly worse conditions and less freedom;

· Migrant domestic workers (MDWs) who were tied to their employers were twice as likely to report having being physically abused to those who were not tied (16% and 8%).

· Almost three quarters of those tied reported never being allowed out of the house where they lived and worked unsupervised (71%), compared to under half on the original visa (43%).

· 65% of tied MDWs didn’t have their own rooms, so shared with the children or slept in the kitchen or lounge, compared with 34% of those not tied

· 53% worked more than 16 hours a day compared to 32% of those who had the right to change employer.

· 60% of those on the tied visa reported pay of less than £50 a week, compared with 36% on the original visa.

· Kalayaan staff internally assessed more than double (69%) of those who were tied as trafficked in contrast with 26% of those who had not been tied. Two thirds of referrals into the National Referral Mechanism for identifying victims of trafficking made by Kalayaan were of domestic workers who were tied to their employers [6] .

3. The increase in abuse of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) since the introduction of the tied ODW visa in April 2012 and the removal of their protections provided by the original MDW visa correlates with the evidence that the treatment of MDWs in the UK improved with the introduction of the original ODW visa in 1998 [7] . It also shows that the measures which Goverment claim protect migrant domestic workers such as requiring 12 months pre-existing employment and claiming that information is given to workers when applying for entry clearance does not always happen and when it does these measures do not protect domestic workers in practice [8] . For example the 12 months pre-existing employment is not always evidenced, or could be exploitative employment from which the worker could not leave. Workers report that they are not always interviewed when applying for their visas and if they are their employers are often present or even used to interpret, the worker often has no understanding of what is being said in English. Most report receiving no information about their situation in the UK [9] .

The need for protections such as those provided by the original Overseas Domestic Worker (ODW) visa

4. The original ODW visa has been recognised internationally as good practise including by the ILO [10] and the special Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants. [11] In view of the fact that there is so little evidence as to the situation of the majority of the MDWs who enter the UK further to their entering with their employers, and that as a sector MDWs are recognised to be particularly vulnerable to abuse [12] to remove these protections in order to cut net migration to the UK [13] or because the visa did not fit neatly within the wider immigration system was completely disproportionate and has resulted in the UK introducing a system where workers are powerless to challenge or to leave their employers without breaching the immigration rules. As there is inevitably an unequal power relationship between migrant domestic workers and their employers and by its very nature the private household is hidden and unregulated the tying of migrant domestic workers to their employers has removed any remaining bargaining powers from domestic workers, including the most basic right to leave exploitative employment which has resulted in increased levels of control and abuse [14] and in some cases trafficking for domestic servitude and slavery.

5. The tied ODW visa has been described as objectifying domestic workers because of the way it treats them as a piece of the employers’ movable household, which ‘can be brought into the [UK] and can be treated by them according to their whims, without any accountability’ [15] . A similar regime with a ‘binding’ (tying) policy of worker to employer in Israel was found by their High Court to be contrary to human dignity and unconstitutional (HCJ 4542/02 Kav LaOved v Government of Israel).

6. It is clear that simply ‘untying’ migrant domestic workers from their employers, for example by permitting MDWs to change employer, but without any option to renew the visa beyond six months, would make no difference in practise to migrant domestic workers. Migrant domestic workers are predominantly employed in work which includes care work and developing of trust and personal relationships. It is not realistic that anyone would employ a domestic worker to care for their children or elderly relatives with only a few months left on their visa. Nor would less than 6 months provide enough time to bring an employment claim for unpaid wages or similar or to support a criminal prosecution. Many migrant domestic workers we see at Kalayaan have paid substantial debts to agents to secure their first job overseas. They cannot consider returning home until these have been repaid. It is common for domestic workers to describe their decision to migrate for work as having ‘sacrificed myself for my family’. They migrated in spite of knowing that there were risks involved as a result of the lack of choices available to them and in order to prevent their own children having to take those same risks. If returned to unpaid debts, made worse by periods of non payment it is likely that many workers will be more vulnerable than previously and at risk of retrafficking.

7. Kalayaan believes that the option to apply for settlement as was permitted under the original ODW visa [16] is key to the provision of comprehensive protection to MDWs and that this provision has never been shown to have had a significant impact on net migration figures anyway. [17] Nor is it clear that the current tied visa regime will in any way reduce migration [18] . In any case settlement is by no means automatic for MDWs on the original visa, requiring 5 years of full time work as a domestic workers in the UK and the meeting of the English requirements, in contrast Canada has a visa for live in caregivers which permits applications for permanent residence after 24 months or 3,900 hours of full time authorised work. [19] We see many cases at Kalayaan where MDWs are made vulnerable year after year around the time of the renewal of their visa. In the months before their visa is due to expire they, and their employers’, know that they need to keep their jobs at all costs as without work they cannot apply to renew their visa and no other employer is likely to employ them with only a short period of leave remaining. Settlement eventually relieves them of this vulnerability.

8. Keeping migrant domestic workers indefinitely temporary and vulnerable would maintain a two tier workforce, one with fewer rights and bargaining power and forever vulnerable to exploitation or misfortune such as sickness or an accident preventing them from working. If the visa was limited to a certain number of years this would only postpone the point at which the worker became vulnerable.

9. As increasing numbers of trafficked individuals are identified and become eligible for support it is worth remembering that the original ODW visa, while providing vital protections to MDWs including those who had been trafficked, was of no cost to the state. Domestic workers could only enter the UK with an existing job in place and could only apply to renew their visa if there was an ongoing demand for their labour as a full time domestic worker in a private household. They had no recourse to public funds and paid all the costs associated with renewing their visas. The requirement to renew their visa annually provided an important opportunity to keep this hidden group of workers visible and to scrutinise the terms of their employment and check for signs of abuse. If more were done in the future to ensure that employers meet their obligations, both to their employees in terms of complying with UK labour law such as the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and to the state in terms of tax and NI contributions there would be a net gain [20] .

September 2014

[1] The immigration rules were formally changed in 2002.

[2] Draft Modern Slavery Bill Joint Committee -  Report April 2014

[3] House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, The Trade in Human Beings: Human Trafficking in the UK, Sixth Report of Session 2008-2009, Volume 1, 6 May 2009, p26

[4] See Amnesty International’s Report on the exploitation of migrant domestic workers in Qatar ‘My Sleep is my break’


[6] Kalayaan is a First Responder and so is able to make referrals into the NRM. However we can only do so when the client gives their informed consent. The majority of the domestic workers who we register at Kalayaan do not consent to such a referral either because they are fearful of the implications of such exposure to the authorities or because they do not see how it would be in their interest.

[7] ‘Ending the Abuse: Policies that work to protect migrant domestic workers’ Mumtaz Lalini, Kalayaan 2011, see Table 4, page 13 which compares the levels of abuse experienced by MDWs in 1996 and 2010


[9] For example see Human Rights Watch research on the tied ODW visa ‘Hidden Away’

[10] Draft ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration 2005, available at

[10] , para 82 .

[11] See , paras 60-61.

[12] Statement by Home Secretary Teresa May, Written Ministerial Statements, 29 February 2012, Column

[12] 35WS.

[13] Anderson, Us and Them, 2013, p 175.

[14] Slavery by a new name: the tied migrant domestic worker visa’ Kalayaan 2013

[15] What Is to Be Done for Migrant Domestic Workers?

[15] Virginia Mantouvalou. Labour Migration in Hard Times , B Ryan (ed), Institute of

[15] Employment Rights, 2013,

[15] reforming-labour-market-regulation

[16] Prior to the 2012 change in the rules this was following 5 years in the UK in accordance with the terms of the visa and subject to meeting the English requirements as well as evidencing ongoing employment as a domestic worker in a private household.

[17] It’s a numbers game.. could we please use the right ones? Jenny Moss, Migration Pulse. August 2011

[18] Shadow City Exposing Human Trafficking in Everyday London. Andrew Boff. GLA Conservatives. P 169


[20] Shadow City Exposing Human Trafficking in Everyday London. Andrew Boff. GLA Conservatives. P 216

Prepared 9th September 2014