Whilst the ink from the Supreme Court’s Rwanda judgement still dries, the Immigration Minister: Robert Jenick MP appears to have big plans to decrease fraud and numbers of migrants coming to the UK.
I have to give you a bit of context before going into the changes that have been claimed are coming in national newspapers such as the Daily Mail.
I was on a call with the Home Office enforcement team in late October, and they mentioned “fraud in the Health and Care system” that was leading to individuals getting visas when they aren’t in fact eligible because some sponsors were offering roles that did not exist.
It’s been split into two categories: those that are openly fraudulent (i.e. those that pay for sponsorship in order to be able to apply for a UK Health and Care visa), and those that are coerced into taking roles in the UK which would not meet relevant employment or immigration laws (e.g. those that are trafficked to the UK to become slaves, or offered no guarantee of hours).
The Home Office has said that it has received large increases in the numbers of people calling them from the care sector claiming to be slave labourers. Although it will be a shock to most of us, a report was released this week into the fraud in the immigration system and substantiates such claims.
Fraud in the System
A recent report from the Work Rights Centre highlighted how interviews had identified the types of fraud in the system. It found a number of ways migrants could be exploited including use of repayment clauses so that the migrant feels as though they need to work for their sponsor for a certain amount of time to avoid paying high Home Office fees back to their employer in one go.
The report also highlights that the Home Office made an income from visa fees of £2.2 billion in 2022, and would account for 8.9% of the Home Office’s budget for the year April 2022 – March 2023. Which highlights how high fees can be used to scare people into not reporting bad behaviour or illegality by some employers.
Furthermore, the report identified that a link to the migrant’s employer, which could end sponsorship at any time, causes a situation where some unscrupulous businesses can exploit migrants as they want to avoid a situation where their visa is cancelled by the Home Office.
The report highlighted that staff shortages at the Home Office had resulted in insufficient enforcement. Vulnerable migrants were exploited, including instances where they were offered roles in the UK. Upon arrival, they discovered that the role was on a zero-hours contract, leading to times with no work and, consequently, no income.
This situation contradicts what is stated on the Certificates of Sponsorship, implying that their visa has been obtained via incorrect information.
Reports of employers withholding wages and retaining passports also seem to be prevalent issues.
The report states that over 67,000 employers now hold a sponsor licence as of 2023 (if you look at the public register over 84,000 sponsor licence holders are listed – but some employers will be listed twice as they hold different licences in different immigration categories), this is a significant increase from 2016 when only 27,000 employers held a licence.
The number of enforcement visits have also fallen significantly, only 1 in every 22 sponsors have been visited for compliance purposes in 2022. The number of visits overall remains broadly the same as it did in 2016, but with fewer employers to visit, the overall percentage of sponsors visited as a percentage remains lower.
The Home Office has hired an additional 300 compliance enforcement officers in the last 12 months, but this will not lead to better enforcement immediately. This means that the Home Office will continue to treat particular sectors with suspicion until they can sort out their enforcement of the immigration system.
The most serious type of fraud in the system is the ‘sponsorship for sale’ schemes, which seem to be occurring across all sectors of the economy. However, the report identifies that it disproportionately affects specific sectors, notably the health and care sector and the agricultural sector.
The report identifies four Indian nurses who were required to pay £20,000 each for sponsorship on a health and care visa. They were then unable to report their employer to the Home Office as they feared their visas would be cancelled.
There are also reports of unprincipled individuals paying unscrupulous employers for sponsorship, knowing that there is no job when they get to the UK, so they can then switch employers.
This is an issue because there are some individuals that believe they are coming to the UK to work on a full time basis to then be told their employer will offer them significantly lower hours than their contract and Certificate of Sponsorship states.
However, the Home Office and HMRC are now sharing pay details with each other, meaning that this will be very difficult to do in future.
But the issue will be that both individuals will be affected by a cancellation of their visa if their sponsor loses their licence, despite one individual thinking they are coming to work full time in the UK.
The Government’s Solution
There are claims that the government will undertake two major changes to the system to clamp down on fraud and reduce overall numbers. There is an idea to increase the visa minimum salary to around £30-33,000pa, up from £26,200pa.
I don’t see how this would work in situations where individuals are paying sponsors to sponsor them so they can apply for a UK visa, and they know that there is no job at the end.
This will lead to fewer employers being able to afford to hire lower paid workers such as those in care homes. In effect, it would make the shortages in certain sectors worse.
There is also a thought that the government could make it harder for those on health and care visas to bring their family members. This will lead to a reduction in the number of doctors, nurses and care assistants coming to the UK.
In essence, it will disproportionately affect women and those already with families. When a large proportion of care assistants are women, it will not lead to reduction in fraud cases but a reduction in the number of roles filled in the industry.
What Does the Report Suggest is the Solution?
The report states that the Home Office implement the following policies:
- Reforms to the skilled worker and health and care worker systems, which would end dependency on one employer and give migrants and employers greater flexibility.
- Strengthen worker protections by introducing a well-funded single enforcement body with a fire wall between labour and immigration enforcement.
- Appoint a migrant commissioner to lead on a Migrant Worker welfare Strategy and coordinate efforts to identify and mitigate migrant exploitation in the long term.
Personally, I agree with these, but I also believe the Home Office should consider four additional measures to reduce fraud in the system:
- Increase enforcement of the immigration rules by hiring more enforcement officers and undertaking more compliance visits (at least 1 in every 4 sponsors should be checked each year).
- Make sure that when they are granting sponsor licences and licence renewals to genuine businesses that show evidence of needing migrant workers (i.e. revenue streams via bank statements, contracts with clients etc.).
- Reduce immigration fees, including scraping the Immigration Skills Charge to avoid fears of migrants being forced to pay extremely high fees, meaning exploitation can continue due to fear of a high bill.
- Scrap the complicated rules regarding the salary requirements for skilled workers, and award points based on the “going rate” for each SOC code instead different rules.
In conclusion, I think that the Home Office would be going down a rabbit hole if they introduce their proposed changes. They have undertaken the failed policy of higher salaries equals no fraud before, and it was a failure.
The Home Office did not reduce fraud by doing this, but it led to a situation where migrant workers were required to be paid more than settled workers in some industries to get a visa.
Furthermore, making individuals not bring family members seems more like a policy to reduce migration than a policy to end any form of fraud. It would seem that politicians are less interested in ending fraud and more interested in bringing migrant numbers down.