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Migrant Advisory Committee report highlights concerns over exploitation

The Migration Advisory Committee’s annual report provides a comprehensive reflection on the impact of the ban on people working while they await a decision on their asylum claim, as well as other shortfalls in the immigration system. The report confirms a number of ways that immigration and asylum policy pushes people into exploitative situations.

Recommendations made by the Committee over the past year to help avoid exploitation include:

  • Ensuring migrants can switch employers
  • Ensuring live-in migrants in the social care system are sponsored by an umbrella body rather than by individuals
  • Recommendations on English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
  • Access to employment for asylum seekers

The report goes into detail on the seasonal worker scheme, current vacancies and wages, and automation in some sectors, all of which should be considered in future immigration policy plans. It suggests that the government should not get too hung up on the recent rise in net migration, to around 500,000:

“This is the highest figure since records began but follows 2 years in which net migration was lower than in recent years. This rise in the most recent 12 months is for several reasons, including the new Hong Kong British National (Overseas) (BNO) route and Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, a rebound in worker visas from the pandemic, a rise in the number of students and their dependants, and the NHS’s use of the SW route. It is unlikely that net migration will remain this high in the long term: the spikes in migration caused by the new visa schemes are likely to be followed by applications tapering off and gradual outflows. In addition, the work routes have been deliberately designed to be flexible in terms of numbers depending on the state of the economy. Given the high level of vacancies referenced earlier in the chapter, it is unsurprising that employers are increasing recruitment overseas to address shortages. If, as predicted, the labour market weakens in coming months, we would expect a reduction in worker visa applications. We would caution the Government in becoming too focused on net migration numbers, particularly since a significant part of the rise is a result of deliberate government policy.”

The report is critical of the lack of action taken in the social care sector. It has been eight months since the government commissioned a report from the Committee on adult social care and “the conditions now faced by the social care sector are unsustainable”, with an estimate of around 70,000 more vacancies in the sector now compared to before the pandemic. The Committee express their disappointment in the Government for not yet responding to their report, noting that “the Governments of Scotland and Wales are taking clear action to address low pay in the sector”.  

The Committee comment on the rural visa pilot to incentivise movement into more rural or underdeveloped areas in the UK. The concept aligns with the governments commitment to level up all parts of the UK however, a closer look at some of the criteria of the visa suggests that it might lead to exploitative workplace practices. And the report is also critical of the suggestion of regional salary thresholds for working visas. These would need to be highly localised for this to be effective, which comes with a multitude of difficulties for employees, employers and data monitoring in what is already a highly complex immigration system.

Finally, the shortage occupation list was something that the government requested the Committee to review in August 2022. However, this report is on hold “pending clarification from the Government on migration policy”.

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