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Migrant care workers charged illegal recruitment fees in UK

Following the introduction of a new government visa scheme in February, care workers were added to the shortage oc-cupation list, in the hope of attracting international applicants. The Observer has conducted an investigation into claims that this visa route is being abused by unscrupulous recruitment agencies and people traffickers, exploiting international candidates looking for work in the UK. 

The investigation has uncovered a network of recruitment agencies who are charging extortionate recruitment fees to candi-dates from India, the Philippines, Ghana and Zimbabwe, amongst other countries; fees range between £3,000 and £18,000. Often described as a “processing”, “service”, or “admin” fee, workers are not informed of the total amount until they have reached the UK. Workers from lower-income areas such as Asia and Africa appear to be primarily targeted, with promises of a “better life” in the UK. 

Charging workers recruitment fees for finding them work in the UK is not only illegal, but constitutes a breach of human rights. The official charge to an individual for a visa application is £247, however any additional recruitment costs are generally paid by the employer. 

As a result of these illegal hidden fees which are only communicated to the candidate once they have relocated to the UK, many workers have become trapped by their debts, falling victim to a form of modern slavery. Some agencies have been found to withhold passports, residence permits or other important documentation until they are paid; whilst others deduct the money directly from the workers salaries; in some instances even direct threats or abuse have been reported.  

Workers are unable to speak up about their situations, as their visas are linked to their employers. Leaving the employment is also not viable for many workers, as repayment clauses are used widely in the private care sector, stipulating that a fee must be paid if the employment contract is terminated before the end of the term (this can be two or three years). 

Recent investigations by the government’s labour abuse agency have identified that modern slavery is a growing issue in the care sector, with accompanying data from the Care Quality Commission also suggesting that cases are on the rise. 

Workers have been found living in unsanitary conditions, eating leftover food from residents meals, and working 80-hour weeks for minimum wage, whilst their exploiters control their pay. 

Both the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and the Department for Health agree that better monitoring is need-ed by care homes to help identify potential traffickers. Other suggestions to tackle the problem include job advertisements made through official government portals (to cut out third party agencies altogether) and also licensing the sector. 

The Department for Health has stated that it takes reports of such practices “very seriously.” 


  • An agency supplying Indian workers to the care sector has been found charg-ing 1.7m rupees (equivalent of £17,6000) for placing them into £10 an hour jobs
  • £4,500 “placement packages” are be-ing offered by some agencies, including certificates of sponsorship (which the employer normally pays for) and visa application support (which can only be charged for if provided by a lawyer or registered immigration adviser)

“People have this view of modern slavery where they think of chains and incarceration, but it’s not like that at all. The chains that bind people these days are nearly always financial.”  

Neill Wilkins, Head of the Migrant Workers’ Programme at the Institute for Human Rights and Business

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