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22 February 2016

Domestic workers change employers for protection, not for immigration reasons

Based on the government's own figures, ‪domestic workers‬ change employers to protect themselves from exploitation and abuse, not to stay in Britain - argues Kate Roberts, Head of Policy at Kalayaan. 

 The original Overseas Domestic Worker visa - an important protection used by those who needed it


The Government’s recent response to a written question from Jim Shannon MP suggests that only 8% of migrant domestic workers who entered the UK on the original Overseas Domestic Worker (ODW) visa remained in the UK.

The original ODW visa allowed migrant domestic workers to change their employers, and if in full time employment to apply to renew their UK visa. This right was taken away in 2012 for stated reasons which included people using this avenue to stay in the UK for good.

Of course a right as fundamental as being able to leave a job does not need to be justified on the basis that few people use it, particularly given the weight of evidence that the tying of migrant domestic workers to their employers has dramatically increased their abuse.  Most recently the Independent review of the Overseas Domestic Workers’ visa,  carried out by James Ewins QC and commissioned by Government, found;

    the existence of a tie to a specific employer and the absence of a universal right to change employer and apply for extensions of the visa are incompatible with the reasonable protection of overseas domestic workers while in the UK

Still, given that one of the reasons given for the changes introduced to the visa in April 2012, which tied domestic workers to the employer with who they entered the UK on a 6 month non renewable visa was that;

    granting a route to permanent settlement in the UK was not necessarily the “correct” response to domestic workers’ vulnerability to abuse


these figures which suggest that such a minority of migrant domestic workers stayed in the UK appear to further discredit the reasons for the changes even on their own terms.

At first glance the figures appear higher, ranging from just under 4,000 in 2012 to 6,645 in 2010.  Around 17,000 ODW visas are issued annually. However, as ODW visa extensions are only valid for a year, this means the vast majority of these will be subsequent renewals. It is only the first time a worker renews her visa that tells you that she will stay in the UK.

In other words, you have to divide the figures by around five (for most years) to get a real number of people deciding to stay in the UK beyond the first 6 month visa (check here for detailed calculations).

Anyone who remains in the UK on the pre 2012 ODW visa has to apply to renew their visa annually until they become eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). This requires 5 years of lawful residence plus meeting the English language requirements. 5 years of leave to remain applications (or visa renewals) is an underestimate some migrant domestic workers are not able to apply for ILR after 5 years, usually because they have not met the English language requirement. 

This suggests that the pre 2010 right to renew the visa and remain in the UK was an important option used by those who needed to leave exploitative work.

Given the reports of serious abuse and exploitation including trafficking made to organisations such as Kalayaan it is likely that it is those workers who were seriously mistreated by their employers who used the rights provided by the pre 2012 ODW visa to escape their employer, find other work as a domestic worker in the UK and move on and rebuild their lives.

Even from government's own figures it's clear that overseas domestic workers don't change employers to settle in the UK but to protect themselves from exploitative and abusive employers.

Kalayaan is a charity providing advice, advocacy and support services in the UK for migrant domestic workers. Visit Kalayaan's website and follow them on twitter @Kalayaan.

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