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In some cases, such migrant workers would be forced to work in the sex trade because of their financial straits, Pai said. The sex workers chose to stay in those jobs for quick money, she noted, citing an example of a single mother from a rural area of China's Fujian Province who traveled to Britain in the hope of earning enough money to support her family living in poverty.

She ended up selling her body, and the only English she spoke was "half hour, 50 pounds," Pai recalled. In Pai's book, she said restrictions in the employment market marginalized migrant workers and made them live in poverty. Pai blamed the increasing number of migrant sex workers in Britain on the country's legal system, which she contended fails to control the sex industry.

Migrant sex workers, instead of their employers, are punished by the system. Some are fined or sent back to their mother countries, she said. While some migrant domestic workers manage to escape and get help from other domestic workers of their nationality or from charities or support groups, many do not come into contact with those groups and do not know people they can turn to for help—in part due to insufficient information about their rights and relevant laws, and the lack of a mechanism by which they can signal abuse to the authorities without fearing deportation or reprisals from employers.

Elissa D. I only met the other Indonesian at 10 a. I just went around with no direction. Several migrant domestic workers who had escaped cited fear of police discovering their undocumented status as the main reason they did not file a complaint. But even lack of medical care and fear of police are not enough to compel most migrant domestic workers to return home voluntarily given the pressure they face to support dependents.

Meanwhile, abusive employers have even greater scope to mistreat and exploit domestic workers, knowing they cannot leave without becoming undocumented. Cuts in legal aid since April for employment and immigration disputes have also hampered the ability of migrant domestic workers to seek redress. The new cuts limit such aid to trafficking victims, but exclude migrant domestic workers who face abuses such as unpaid wages, excessive work hours, or forced labour as defined under international law.

Often, the abuses that Human Rights Watch documented began before migrant domestic workers and their employers arrived in the United Kingdom—mostly in Gulf countries where the highly exploitative kafala sponsorship system ties migrant workers to employers by denying them the right to change jobs or sometimes leave the country without employer permission. The abuses that many interviewees described before arrival, and which Human Rights Watch has extensively documented in other reports, then continued in the absence of checks by British authorities to ensure employers were complying with UK law.

Cherryloi M. Human Rights Watch does not claim that all employers mistreat their domestic workers; indeed, it has interviewed domestic workers who were satisfied with their employment conditions. But immigration control cannot override its duty to protect abused and exploited individuals. The UK has ratified several European and international treaties that obligate it to protect migrant domestic workers from forced labour and exploitation by both agents of the state and private individuals, including employers.

UK domestic law also prohibits forced labour and provides certain guarantees for fair working conditions. The Human Rights Act prohibits forced labour and the Coroners and Justice Act criminalizes slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour. Kidnapping and false imprisonment are offenses under UK common law. Under Working Time Regulations, workers—including domestic workers—are entitled to uninterrupted time off, paid leave, and at least one day off a week.

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It should also allow all migrant domestic workers to change employer, whether they work in private or diplomatic households—which the ILO and the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants have referred to as a best practice for protecting and preventing abusive migration. The government should also request that other governments waive the immunity of diplomats from prosecution when a domestic worker filed a complaint in cases where there is prima facie evidence that would warrant investigation by the police. When issuing visas to the UK, British embassy staff, not private contractors, should meet migrant domestic workers individually and with an interpreter if necessary , to ensure they are fully aware of their rights in the UK, including to keep their passport with them at all times, the national minimum wage, and time off.

UK border officials should also interview domestic workers and give them information, in writing and orally, about their rights in the UK.

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In December , the home secretary presented a draft bill on modern slavery that consolidates legislation on the crimes that constitute modern slavery—slavery, servitude, forced labour, and human trafficking. It also increases penalties for those guilty of such crimes and creates an anti-slavery commissioner. The government should see the draft bill as a chance to take additional steps beyond enhanced criminal penalties to strengthen protections for migrant domestic workers, a group that the bill does not specifically mention, but which is vulnerable to abuses that can amount to modern slavery as defined by the UK government.

Human Rights Watch conducted research for this report between July and February A female Human Rights Watch researcher interviewed 33 migrant domestic workers in London. Interviews were conducted in English or Arabic, in some cases with the help of another female domestic worker. In one case a female volunteer interpreted in Indonesian. All but one of the migrant domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch were woman.

The majority seventeen were from the Philippines, five from Morocco, six from India, two from Nigeria, one from Sri Lanka, one from Indonesia, and one from Uganda. Fifteen went to work in the UK as domestic workers since the change in the visa rules, including one in a diplomatic household. Fourteen went to the UK on old Overseas Domestic Worker visas in private households and four on old Overseas Domestic Worker visas in diplomatic households.

The interview subjects in this report do not represent a random sample of migrant domestic workers in the UK. This study is based on qualitative rather than quantitative research methods. The majority of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch had fled from their employer and sought help from charities, self-help groups, or other domestic workers and reported a form of mistreatment. While we do not claim all migrant domestic workers in the UK are abused by their employers, interviewees from different countries who had worked for different employers at different times described similar experiences.

Secondary sources are also consistent with this finding. The totality of this research shows a pattern of abuse and exploitation migrant domestic workers can face at the hands of their employers and a lack of safeguards to effectively protect them from such treatment and allow them to seek redress. While the visa rules have changed, the statements of migrant domestic workers who were or had been on the old visa highlighted abuses that were consistent with those described by migrant workers on the new visa, indicating the problematic nature of the lack of safeguards against abuse by employers.

Of the migrant domestic workers who arrived since the change in the visa rules, five had worked for their employer in Qatar immediately before going to the UK, three in Saudi Arabia, three in the United Arab Emirates UAE , one in Kuwait, one in Oman, one in Singapore, and one in Hong Kong. All except for one had left their employer at the time of the interview. Of the migrant domestic workers on old visas who were working at the time of the interview, the majority were working for another employer.

One domestic worker was still working for the same employer. Human Rights Watch was in contact with interviewees through Kalayaan, the main charity assisting migrant domestic workers in the UK, through self-help groups of domestic workers, or through other domestic workers. Human Rights Watch also interviewed representatives of other rights groups that help domestic workers and lawyers working on cases of domestic workers. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the research to all interviewees, obtained informed consent, and did not provide any form of compensation.

One interviewee was reimbursed for her travel costs to the place of the interview.

Human Rights Watch also met with officials at the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, the consul general of Morocco, and a representative of the Embassy of Indonesia. We made a number of attempts to speak with the Metropolitan Police, but received no response to our meeting requests. In UK law, trafficking is a criminal offense which involves the transportation of a person into or within the UK in order to exploit that person by using force, threats, or deception.

Exploitation is defined under UK law as including sexual and labour exploitation. Over 13, Overseas Domestic Worker visas were issued in the first three quarters of , and over 15, in The figure has not varied significantly in recent years. The Overseas Domestic Worker visa requires domestic workers to have been employed for at least a year by their employer before traveling to the UK. Under the rules in place since April , their employer must only be on a temporary visit to the UK. While there are other migrant domestic workers who may have the right to work in the UK on another basis, for instance as refugees, or who entered the UK on spouse visas, this report focuses on domestic workers who entered the UK on specific visas to accompany their employer to the UK and who have proven to be particularly vulnerable to abuse given their dependence on their employer for their immigration status, their work, and often their home.

Most of the migrant domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, in particular those entering under the new visa rules, worked for their employer in Gulf countries Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Kuwait and accompanied their employers while they were on holiday in the UK or receiving medical treatment. As the primary reason for migrant domestic workers to work abroad is to support their families financially, it is common for them to send most, if not all, their wages home, and in some cases their employers sent the money directly to their home country.

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In such cases domestic workers are left without British pounds and unable to buy anything for themselves, including personal items, telephone cards to call their families, and without money for transport if they decide to run away. Like other workers in the UK, domestic workers, including migrant domestic workers, are entitled to the National Minimum Wage, breaks during the working day, time off, and paid leave.

However, the UK Working Time Regulations, which incorporate the EU Working Time Directive into UK law, exclude domestic workers both from the limitation of working time to 48 hours per week and from the limitation of night work to eight hours for each 24 hours. UK law also exempts employers of domestic workers from their duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare at work of their employees. But given their undocumented status once they leave their employer and government budget cuts that have effectively cut off legal aid for all employment cases, it is particularly difficult for migrant domestic workers under the new tied visa to seek redress before an employment tribunal.

Two migrant domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch who were in the UK on the old, pre Overseas Domestic Worker visa had their claims settled before they were heard by an employment tribunal. In , following a campaign by nongovernmental organizations NGOs , charities, and trade unions, the British government gave migrant domestic workers coming to work in private households in the UK the right to change employer if they found full-time work as a domestic worker. Those working in private households who wished to accompany their employer to the UK were granted a visa for up to six months if their employer was a visitor to the UK and up to 12 months if their employer intended to stay in the UK for longer.

Migrant domestic workers could extend their visa for 12 months at a time, and work as a domestic worker for another employer if they wished. In such cases, they were required to notify the Home Office but only had to apply to extend their stay in the UK when their visa was reaching the end of its term. They could also apply for permanent residence after being in the UK as a domestic worker for five years.

When in the British government considered removing the right for migrant domestic workers to change employer in an effort to reduce migration of low skilled workers from outside the European Union EU , it faced strong opposition from NGOs and trade unions. But in June , the British government—already engaged in an effort to reduce net migration to the UK—proposed to remove the right of overseas domestic workers to change employer, restrict their visa to six months if accompanying a visitor, and remove their rights to extend their visa and to apply for settlement in the UK.

They described being subjected to a variety of abuses and exploitation including physical abuse, restriction of their movements, and being paid very little or not at all to work for extremely long hours often without breaks. Given the lack of rights and mobility that many domestic workers face in other countries, our research shows that a month employment relationship prior to going to the UK does not establish that the worker was treated well.

Ignoring warnings that removing the proposed rules would lead to abuses of domestic workers by their employers, in March , the government changed the rules for overseas domestic workers applying for a visa after April 5, Prior to the April changes in the visa rules, migrant domestic workers who worked for a diplomat could switch to working for another diplomat in the same mission. Under the new rules, migrant domestic workers can only work for one diplomat and must leave the UK at the same time as their employer or earlier. Diplomats and their families enjoy immunity from the jurisdiction of British courts in criminal, administrative, and civil matters.

According to Karan Singh, a caseworker at Kalayaan, the level of abuse reported by migrant domestic workers working for diplomats who register with Kalayaan is higher than for those working in private households. To ensure employees of foreign embassies and consulates who employ migrant domestic workers in the UK treat them in accordance with UK law and provide them with fair living and working conditions, the UK government should develop and adopt a code of conduct governing these employment relationships.

The draft bill consolidates offenses dealing with human trafficking and forced labour, slavery, and servitude; increases the maximum sentence for modern slavery offences from 14 years to life imprisonment; introduces a number of measures such as an anti-slavery commissioner whom the home secretary will appoint to work with law enforcement bodies on their response to modern slavery; and imposes a duty on public bodies and designated NGOs to report suspected victims of trafficking. A review panel led by Member of Parliament Frank Field was tasked by Theresa May to produce a report on modern slavery in the UK in order to provide evidence for the new anti-slavery bill.

In a report published on December 16, , the panel found that:. The panel therefore recommended that the joint committee on the draft modern slavery bill composed of members of both houses of parliament consider restoring the right for overseas domestic workers to change employer. Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses against migrant domestic workers in the Gulf countries, where most of the interviewees for this report worked before going to the UK, some of them amounting to forced labour or slavery.

These abuses include confiscation of passports, failure to pay salaries, excessive working hours with no days off, and confinement to the workplace.

Invisible: Britain’s Migrant Sex Workers by Hsiao Hung Pai

Abuses documented by Human Rights Watch also include physical and sexual abuse. In some of these cases the abuse lasted for several years. The changes in the visa rules for migrant domestic workers entered into force in an environment of increasing hostility towards migrants, often portrayed negatively in the media. A recent poll suggests that immigration is one of the top concerns of people in the UK.

For one week in July , vans toured six London boroughs in a government campaign to increase the number of irregular migrants returning home voluntarily. Rights groups, politicians, and local authorities fired back, and the government abandoned the scheme. As well as removing protections domestically, the UK has refused to ratify a groundbreaking international treaty that, while accounting for the unique circumstances of work that takes place in private homes, recognizes the same rights for domestic workers as for other workers.

The convention requires that governments provide domestic workers with similar rights to those enjoyed by other workers, such as limits to working hours, minimum wage, daily and weekly rest periods, and to protect domestic workers from abuse. The only country to vote against was Swaziland. The treaty does not require governments to impose exactly the same obligations on private households employing a single domestic worker as it does on large companies employing many workers.

In the House of Lords in June , a representative of the government confirmed its refusal to ratify the convention for the same reasons. Human Rights Watch has documented a range of abuses against migrant domestic workers which constitute criminal offenses under UK law, including forced labour and physical and psychological abuse. The majority of those interviewed who were under the new tied visa said their passport had been confiscated by their employer, which is not specifically criminalized under UK law but constitutes an indicator o f forced labour and trafficking.

Most of the migrant domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch for this research described at least some of the elements that constitute forced labour under international law. Under European and international law, the UK must protect people on its territory from forced labour whether the actions are committed by public officials or private individuals. However, there is no mechanism in place in the UK to check whether employers are respecting the rights of migrant domestic workers and for those working in the UK under the new visa.

The act, which entered into force in April , criminalizes slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour and applies where there is no element of trafficking. It informs prosecutors that behavior that can indicate that a person may be held in servitude or be a victim of forced or compulsory labour includes:.

The guidance also states that other indicators of forced labour include excessive working hours imposed by the employer, poor accommodation, and isolation from contact with others. Thirty domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch described at least one of those elements. Andrea N. She started at 6 a. She said:. For two-and-a-half years, Ira A. She cared for the baby like a nurse, waking every two hours during the night to give him his medicine. She was forbidden by her employers to leave the ward except when her employers visited once per month.

But they did not pay the money consistently. Ira said her family did not receive any money for the first four months and only received her monthly salary four times in two years. Ira was not allowed to have a mobile phone. We stayed for two-and-a-half months. I stayed in the hospital with the boy and the parents stayed in an apartment. Many of those interviewed for this report described abusive living conditions, including lack of adequate food and privacy.

Some were only given leftovers to eat by their employer, or sometimes not provided with food at all. For those whose employers did not pay them in the UK, this meant they could not buy any food. Many were not provided with their own bedroom. Ana V. She only had EUR her female employer had given her in Qatar before she left, but her male employer did not allow her to exchange the money in the UK.

She said when they went out to eat in a restaurant there was sometimes only bread for her to eat. Several migrant domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had to eat quickly before getting back to work.


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Six of the domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch who arrived since the visa rules changed said they had their own room in London. Nine said they slept in a storage or utility room, with a child, in the living room, or in a room they shared with their employer. One domestic worker said she had her own room but that she was not allowed to use the heating, and that she suffered from the cold as all she had was a small blanket she had brought from Saudi Arabia. Assault and harassment are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment in the UK.

The British government has a duty to protect migrant domestic workers from being abused by their employer and to ensure that they have access to justice if they are. Comfort S. Linda S. Saleema R. They scared me already. Most domestic workers on new visas whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said they were not allowed to go out freely. Some were only permitted to go out with their employer, or with the children, or for short trips to the supermarket.

Two domestic workers on the new visa, one working in a private household the other working for a diplomat, told Human Rights Watch their employers locked them in the house when they went out. But at 5 a. I woke up and made tea for my Madam. She told me not to go to my room again until midnight…. I sat with them in restaurants, looking at them eating. One day, a week after arriving in London, Cherryloi M. She ran away, without her passport or money. Catherine Kenny, a case-worker at Kalayaan, told Human Rights Watch she had seen about 35 migrant domestic workers on the new visa and all reported some kind of confinement.

Some can go out with a child. Seven domestic workers who arrived in the UK on the new visa told Human Rights Watch they were not allowed a mobile phone or did not have enough money to top up the credit on their phone. Elissa I. She ran away the second time. For Sudeewa B. Several domestic workers told Human Rights Watch their employers told them not to talk to people in London, apparently as a means of controlling domestic workers by preventing them from having contact with other people.

Thirteen of the 15 domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch who arrived since the visa changes said their employers retained their passports. While some domestic workers said they held their passport during their journey to the UK, others told Human Rights Watch their employers even retained their passport while going through the UK border at the airport.

She said border officers asked questions but her employer answered.

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Rita C. They locked it in the safe. Raquel E. Her employer, she said, told the police that she had her own room and one and a half days off. According to Raquel E. Raquel had not received her passport back at the time of writing. The main labour abuses documented in the research for this report were excessive working hours and low wages or non-payment of salary. The overwhelming majority of interviewees said their employers did not pay them the minimum wage in the UK, despite the fact that a written agreement specifying that the worker will be paid UK national minimum wage is a requirement for visas to be issued, as well as a requirement under UK employment law.

The majority of migrant domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, under both the old and the new visa system, said they worked excessively long hours, on average from 6 a. Some said they started at 4 a.

Invisible: Britain's Migrant Sex Workers

In families with small children, especially, they were expected to be on call day and night and to attend to the children if they woke up. Some said they also had to get up at night if their employer requested something, for instance food, whatever the time. Some domestic workers said they had to wait until their employers finished eating before cleaning up, and some had to work late into the night if their employer had a party, but they were not paid extra.

Of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch under the new visa system, only two said they had days off in the UK and one of these two said it was not consistent. Excessive overtime, which can include being denied breaks and days off or being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is an indicator of forced labour according to the ILO and the UK Crown Prosecution Service. Farah Y. Almost every day she would have to change the sheets, even if there was no one staying in the room, cook, clean, and iron. Zahia M. She started to make breakfast at 6 a. Her employers and their children each wanted something different to eat.

She spent the rest of the day cooking, cleaning, and picking up after them. Several domestic workers, who are practicing Christians, said they would have liked to have gone to church but they were not allowed to. With very few exceptions, the domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had no breaks during the day and no days off. Along with employers withholding their passports and excessive working hours, insufficient wages was the most common abuse described by the domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch.

Most of those staying in the UK under both the old and the new visa rules said they were paid extremely low salaries, if at all. At least those in the UK under the old visa rules were allowed to look for and take on another, better paying job. Those coming to the UK under the new rules have little realistic option but to accept the wages offered.

Of the 15 migrant domestic workers working in the UK under the new visa system whom Human Rights Watch interviewed, 9 said they were not paid in the UK. They were paid back in the country where they had worked before, or their employer sent their salary directly to their family, or they were not paid at all. While some said they had consented to their employer sending their wages directly to their families back home, in practice they had little choice if they wanted to send the money home themselves given the restrictions many employers placed on their movements.

Several domestic workers working in the UK under the new visa rules told Human Rights Watch they had signed documents with information about their salary and time off in the UK which their employers never followed. In some cases, employers explicitly told them to lie if they were asked questions at the British embassy during their visa interview. Neha R. She said she worked from 6 a. She was not allowed out alone and slept in a room with the children. Phoebe D. The UK Home Office information sheet issued to overseas domestic workers informs those going to the UK that they are entitled to the National Minimum Wage and that if they have worries about their work situation or think their employer is not respecting their rights, they can contact the Pay and Work Rights Helpline [93] or the ACAS Helpline.

The information sheet does not specify what the acronym ACAS Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service stands for, nor does it tell domestic workers what the National Minimum Wage in the UK is or to how much time off they are entitled. The most serious consequence of the new tied visa for migrant domestic workers is that if they leave their employer they become undocumented.

As a result, domestic workers who have escaped from abusive conditions can be afraid to approach the police out of fear of being deported from the UK. If they become undocumented, migrant domestic workers are unable to register with a doctor and unable to work legally. As a result, they risk either being destitute or at risk of further exploitation if they take up informal work. The authority can then grant a recovery and reflection period of 45 days and accommodation in a government funded safe house.

However, not all migrant domestic workers who have been abused have been trafficked, and not all those who have been trafficked are willing or able to make an application to the NRM. Even for trafficking victims who are eligible, the NRM does not grant an automatic right to work even for a fixed period. However, if the person is not found to be a victim of trafficking, he or she may be referred to police or the Home Office and receive an offer to return home voluntarily.

They also recommended that decisions should be made by a new independent decision-making body, or that all decisions should be made solely by the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre. Kate Roberts, community advocate at Kalayaan, told Human Rights Watch that in cases involving domestic workers who have come to the UK under the new visa rules and have left their employment she must inform them of the risks of referring them through the NRM because it exposes their undocumented status to the authorities.

However, Kalayaan does so, and increasingly so, because referral through the NRM remains the only possibility for them to obtain legal aid. Migrant domestic workers who are experiencing abuse as well as those who already have fled from an abusive employer can be reluctant to go to the police because of the fear of being deported if they do so. Some domestic workers told Human Rights Watch they had been threatened by their employer with being reported to the police and imprisoned.

Domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch also described a number of other reasons that made it difficult for them to leave their employer, including not having their passport, not knowing people in the UK, and not knowing the city in which they are living. Several domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were reluctant to go to the police because their employer had told them the police would detain them if they ran away, or because they did not trust the police. Elizabeth A. Given the lack of information made available to migrant domestic workers going to the UK, many of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they did not know the terms of their visa until they escaped from their employer and received assistance from the NGO Kalayaan, self-help groups, or other domestic workers.