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Changes to the visa rules for foreign domestic workers amount to “turning the clock back 15 years” to the days when they were deported for experiencing abuse, say campaigners.
The changes announced by the home secretary, Theresa May, as part of a wider package of immigration reform will prevent foreign cooks, nannies and other staff who come to work in private households from switching employer or staying longer than six months.
May has told MPs the changes are being made to ensure that overseas visitors and diplomats can be accompanied by their domestic staff and the route is not used to provide permanent access to Britain for unskilled workers.
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But campaigners believe the changes will mean any domestic workers who leave a private household to escape abuse will immediately face the prospect of being deported.
Jenny Moss of Kalayaan, which supports migrant domestic workers, said: “The decision to remove the right to change employer, and therefore remove an important protection from abuse, turns the clock back 15 years to the days when domestic workers were deported for experiencing abuse.”
Her concern was echoed by Audrey Guichon of Anti-Slavery International, who said that tying domestic workers to one employer was in effect licensing slavery. “These proposed changes will give unscrupulous bosses the power to threaten workers with deportation if they do not comply with whatever they demand,” she said.
She added the situation in Britain would now mirror the “kafala” system across the Middle East where a change of employer means losing the right to residency.
The home secretary said she recognised there was a danger of abusive behaviour in this situation and it was important that employers knew what was and was not acceptable. She said that written terms and conditions of employment would be required before workers came to Britain.