On March 7, the Government released its response to James Ewins’ December 2015 Independent Review of Overseas Domestic Workers’ Visas. René Cassin submitted written evidence to this review in May 2015.
In his review, Ewins argued that visas which tie employees to a single employer create an environment in which abuse is more likely to take place. Ewins suggested that workers should be allowed to search for other domestic jobs and that visa extensions should be long enough to allow workers to secure new employment. Ewins advocated for a total of up to two and half years of extensions for victims of abuse to stay in the UK and work.
He also noted the need for increased access to legal aid for victims and for improvement in the provision of information regarding visa requirements and aid resources.
In response, the Government decided to provide “an immediate escape route from abuse” by allowing workers to switch employers during the first six months of their time in the UK. This freedom to change employers will exist regardless of evidence of abuse.
The Government’s rationale for the six month limit on shifting employers is that a longer-time period would discourage reporting of abusive employers because workers would simply leave abusive situations and find new jobs.
However, Ewins argued in his review that workers are far more likely to report previous abuse when they have found stable, alternative forms of employment and do not run the risk of being deported.
In addition, the Government will extend the stay of those identified by the National Referral Mechanism as having been victims of abuse. These extensions will last from six months to two years.
The Government also recognized the need for better provision of information—both for employers and workers—regarding visa requirements and obligations. Specifically, the Government agreed that it will provide overseas domestic workers with a neutral space to report issues and will establish meetings with a body independent of the Home Office for workers to access advice and report abuse.
If employers fail to ensure their workers attend these meetings, they could lose the privilege to sponsor future overseas domestic workers. The same requirements will apply to diplomatic employers.
The Government did not address the need for increased funding and access to legal aid for victims.
Although the changes represent concrete forward progress, overseas domestic workers’ visas still leave workers vulnerable to abuse.
If workers are unable to find alternate employment during their first six months, they are left with the same choices they had before the changes were made—deportation or continuing to work in an abusive work environment.
Although the National Referral Mechanism exists to allow victims to report abuse and remain in the UK, the bar for substantive evidence of slavery or trafficking remains extremely high.
The Government has acknowledged that further changes might need to be made and hopes to use data gathered from the National Referral Mechanism to inform future decisions.