Citizens Advice raises concerns about exploitation in the care sector

A recent report by Citizens Advice highlights a troubling trend in the treatment of migrant care workers in the UK. These individuals, who arrive on Health and Care Worker visas, find themselves in precarious situations, often facing exploitation due to restrictive visa conditions that tie their right to live and work in the UK to a specific job and sponsor.

There are many genuine and conscientious care sector employers but unfortunately a minority have been found to be exploiting and abusing their staff. Citizens Advice have found that frontline advisors are reporting increasing evidence of abuse in the sector. They are concerned that the visa system contributes to precarious work environments and drives exploitation of migrant care workers.

The factors Citizens Advice highlight as being enhanced risk factors for visa holders are as follows:

  • Restrictive Visas:
    The Health and Care Worker visa creates a power imbalance, severely limiting workers’ ability to enforce their rights or leave exploitative jobs. This is because people are scared of being dismissed and losing their visa and so are less likely to speak up. Also, the strict visa rules make finding a new job difficult and potentially prohibitively expensive.
  • Exploitation Cases:
    Advisers are witnessing cases where migrant workers are not paid for travel time, owe large recruitment fees, and face threats of dismissal for asserting their rights. Half the migrant care workers helped by Citizens Advice were experiencing financial hardship and many were at risk of homelessness.
  • Systemic Issues:
    The enforcement of employment rights and visa rules is failing these workers, leaving them vulnerable to dismissal and loss of their visa if they complain. The key issue is that they are fearful of calling out bad treatment as they cannot risk their visa status. The loss of their job can lead to the cancellation of their visa if they are unable to find another suitable employer to sponsor them.

The recent restrictions which now mean that care workers are unable to bring dependants with them to the UK is likely to exacerbate the problems as workers in the sector are isolated in the UK, with no-one to turn to and under additional pressure to continue in employment to support their family in their home country.

Citizens Advice have been actively raising awareness of the issues they are seeing and have raised these with local MPs and to the authorities commissioning social care services.

Care workers facing these problems can reach out to the Citizens Advice for support.

Employers in the sector can also help to root out systemic abuse by reporting the few bad apples when they become aware of exploitative practises.

The Home Office needs to urgently review the restrictions built into the visa system to reduce the resulting risk of labour exploitation in the UK. The answer is not simply to restrict the Health and Care Worker route as this could put even more pressure on the care sector which is struggling to meet labour force demands as it is. Further restrictions could make it even more difficult for care workers to voice their concerns and to seek help.

The Citizens Advice report calls for urgent reforms to empower individuals to enforce their rights and to improve the supervision and enforcement of existing rules. It is clear that without significant changes, the exploitation of migrant care workers could persist, undermining the integrity of the UK’s care system, visa system and the rights of its workers.

If you have any queries regarding the contents of this article, please get in touch with Emma Brooksbank, or another member of our Immigration Team.

Get in touch

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

Related expertise

Get in touch

Contact us today

Whatever your legal needs, our wide ranging expertise is here to support you and your business, so let’s start your legal journey today and get you in touch with the right lawyer to get you started.


Get in touch

For general enquiries, please complete this form and we will direct your message to the most appropriate person.