Migrant care workers: how to stand up to exploitation

An FAQ guide from the Work Rights Centre

At the Work Rights Centre, we are supporting an increasing number of migrant care workers who have been scammed out of thousands of pounds by bogus recruiters, left without work and indebted, or facing exploitation in their jobs. At first there were just a few cases but we are hearing from more and more people. As TBIJ revealed this week, exploitation in the UK’s care sector is a widespread problem. We want to empower people to stand up to it.

This answers some of care workers’ most common questions. It is a very complex situation. On the one hand, we want all migrant workers to understand and stand up for their employment rights. But because the visa system puts employers in a position of incredible power, migrant workers also need to think about how to protect their immigration status. This Q&A helps people navigate these stages.

You can read the full Q&A here. Below is an extract covering what you should do if you lose your job and steps you can take to find a new sponsor.

If you lose your job

What happens to my immigration status if my employer dismisses me?
While on a Health and Care Worker (or a Skilled Worker) visa, your permission to stay in the UK is dependent on being employed by an approved sponsor. If your employment with the sponsor of your visa were to end, even if the reason was unfair, your visa would normally be cancelled by the Home Office. You will also not be able to work for another employer, until you have been issued with a new immigration status.

Employers who are authorised to sponsor migrant workers must tell the Home Office within 10 working days once they have stopped sponsoring someone. You should then receive a curtailment letter in the post from the Home Office, to inform you that your visa has been shortened (‘curtailed’) to 60 days (or less, for example if your visa was due to expire in fewer than 60 days). If you want to continue to work in the UK under the Health and Care Worker route, you will have to find a new employer to sponsor you, and apply for a new visa before your current one expires.

IMPORTANT: If you do not make a valid application before your current visa expires, you will overstay your visa and no longer have permission to be or work in the UK. This carries very serious risks. Please get in touch with a qualified immigration adviser.

My employment ended, but I never received a curtailment letter. Does that mean I can live and work in the UK as before?
Unfortunately, it does not. Some migrants do not receive a curtailment letter, even long after their sponsored employment ended. This could be because employers failed to notify the Home Office of the end of a migrant worker’s employment, the migrant worker’s address was out of date, or as a result of a delay by the Home Office.

However, once your sponsored employment has ended, your immigration status will not be secure, and could be curtailed at any moment. You will also breach the conditions of your visa if you work anywhere else. You should speak to a qualified immigration adviser to assess your options in this situation.

IMPORTANT: Please ensure your details are up to date with the Home Office, so that you receive all necessary communication, including a curtailment letter. You can update your details on the UK government website.

How can I see my immigration status?
The Home Office has an online service where people can prove their right to work and rent. This service should give a real time view of whether you continue to have status inside the UK. The service can be accessed (for right to work) here.

Can I still work while I am looking for a new sponsor?
When you are on a Health and Care Worker (or a Skilled Worker) visa, your permission to live and work in the UK is dependent on you being employed by an approved sponsor. If your employment with the sponsor ends, you will not be able to work, even if it is for another employer, until you have been issued a new grant of permission to stay in the UK. This could mean finding a different sponsor.

Most people with a Health and Care Worker (or a Skilled Worker) visa will have permission to work 20 hours a week with another employer, while they are employed by their sponsor. You should continue to be able to do this, for as long as you are employed by your sponsor.

Can I claim benefits?
Not usually. Migrant workers with permission under the Health and Care Worker (or Skilled Worker) route cannot claim public funds (such as welfare benefits) under the Immigration Rules, and they cannot under normal circumstances ask the Home Office for permission to access public funds.

If there are particularly compelling circumstances, such as you are facing destitution or homelessness, you can apply on discretionary grounds to access these funds. This is known as an application to vary the conditions of your leave.

Please seek immigration legal advice. If your application is refused, the Home Office may reconsider whether you continue to meet the requirements of the immigration route under which you were given permission, and your permission could be cancelled. Please see the relevant Home Office guidance

You may be able to apply for other financial support from your local council if you are facing destitution or homelessness.

Finding a new sponsor

How can I find a new sponsor?
There is currently no single, publicly available register of all the employers who operate in the care sector, and who are authorised to sponsor migrant workers. However, you can get this information in other ways. Please be vigilant, and never pay for recruitment.

First, you can do an internet search for terms like “jobs in care with sponsorship”. Most vacancies on job boards such as indeed.com will specify if they can sponsor migrant workers.

The Care Quality Commission has a list of employers operating in the care sector. You can use their search engine to filter by industry area (eg: care) and the area where you would like to find work (eg: London). Next, you can check if an employer is authorised to sponsor migrant workers, by searching their name in the government’s register of sponsors (you will have to download that list, as the version available online includes only a small subset of employers).

There is also a specific list of approved NHS recruiters who may also be able to support you with finding a new employer. You can access the list here and search for organisations that provide support with recruitment for ‘senior care workers’ ‘care workers’ and other relevant job types.

If you are a member of a union, they may also be able to support you with finding alternative employment.

You should not be required to pay any recruitment fees. See our full guide for more info.

What happens after I have found a new sponsor? Assuming you still have a valid immigration status, you should be able to apply for permission to stay in the UK under the Health and Care Worker (or Skilled Worker) route. To do this, you need to ensure your potential employer is a licensed sponsor (you can check this on the Home Office register), that you are assigned a valid certificate of sponsorship, and that you meet the specific requirements for the application you are making (including the skill, salary, and English language requirements).