FLEX publishes new report and briefing on how to protect post-Brexit migration plans from increased human trafficking

News29 May 2019

Today FLEX publishes a new report entitled 'The risks of exploitation in temporary migration programmes: A FLEX response to the 2018 Immigration White Paper', along with a complementary policy briefing.

This in-depth report builds on previous FLEX work examining temporary migration programmes. The Government’s long-awaited December 2018 Immigration White Paper, The UK’s future skills-based immigration system, described plans for three temporary migration programmes designed to bring workers to the UK after Brexit.

These are:

1.    Seasonal Workers Pilot

This pilot will bring 2,500 workers per year to the UK from outside the EU to work on farms within edible horticulture on six-month visas. Workers will not be allowed to return to the UK under the same route for a further six months (‘cooling-off period’). The pilot is already operational, having been introduced under Immigration Rules on 11 December 2018 and is referred to within the Immigration White Paper under Section 6. Workers will be tied to a sponsoring operator company who will then send them to an employer farm.

2.    12-month short-term visa

This proposed new route would allow workers at any skill level to come to work in the UK for a maximum period of 12 months. This would be followed by a 12-month cooling-off period during which the person cannot reapply under the scheme.  Workers will not be tied to any specific employer, operator or sector. It will be open to people from “low risk” countries only. These countries have not yet been specified by government.

3.    UK-EU Youth Mobility Scheme

This would be a continuation of the already-existent Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS), though amended to take into account “EU specificities”. The current YMS allows individuals aged 18 to 30 from eight countries to come to the UK to work or study for up to two years. The visa is non-renewable. To date, the YMS has not been a major source of labour migration to the UK.

Brexit and the end to free movement of labour between the UK and the EU will undoubtedly lead to demand for new labour migration routes, particularly among industries currently reliant on migrant workers. However, FLEX considers that the proposed TMPs pose significant risks of labour abuse and exploitation. Today’s report examines these three programmes and draws on examples of other such schemes from the UK’s own history and around the world to demonstrate the pitfalls and risks present in them from the perspective of workers.

In seeking to engage productively with the Government’s future immigration plans, the report and attendant briefing propose clear recommendations to ensure workers coming to the UK under any such schemes are provided with sufficient rights and protections. These include:

  • Removing cooling-off periods between visas and provide pathways to permanent residence and family reunification for migrant workers at all wage levels.
  • Increasing the resources and remit of labour inspectorates to ensure the enforcement of legislation to prevent forced labour, including labour law.
  • Providing migrant workers with access to public funds.
  • Embedding labour protections into the design of any new TMPs proposed, in consultation with trade unions and migrants’ organisations

Read the full report here and the complementary briefing here. If you have any questions regarding this report please contact the researcher, Meri Ahlberg, at [email protected].