Leeds & West Yorkshire

Visa changes needed to help migrant domestic workers

Merissa Begonia, Justice 4 Domestic Workers Image copyright Alamy
Image caption Marissa Begonia of campaign group Justice 4 Domestic Workers is calling for longer visas for domestic workers

Urgent changes are needed to the UK visa system to protect migrant workers from being used as domestic slaves, a campaign group has warned.

Justice 4 Domestic Workers is calling for a better deal for foreign workers, who are employed mainly as nannies or maids in private homes.

The group, based in London and Leeds, supports some of the 17,000 people who come to UK for domestic work each year.

The Home Office said it is committed to protecting victims of domestic slavery.

'Trapped in the system'

Marissa Begonia from Justice 4 Domestic Workers said she had seen workers who had been burnt with irons or had hot water poured over them by employers.

She said some workers were only granted a six-month visa, leaving them limited choice if they wanted to find alternative work.

"They are trapped in this system that tolerates abuse, that tolerates slavery, that tolerates trafficking," she said.

The campaign has urged the UK to look at Europe for its regulations around domestic workers, including more relaxed rules on living with employers and clearer contracts.

One domestic helper from the Philippines who now works in Yorkshire, told Inside Out that a previous employer became abusive and violent towards her, telling her to leave before throwing a stool at her.

"I was afraid at any time she could send me back to the Philippines," she said.

What are the visa regulations?

In 2012 new visa rules were brought in which tied domestic workers to a single employer. Critics claimed it made it very difficult for staff to leave if the relationship turned violent or abusive.

In April this year, visa regulations were tweaked giving workers the right to switch employers. But with visas lasting six months or less, it is claimed domestic workers face some hard choices.

They can leave and find a new job in the remaining time - or stay and suffer abuse to earn the cash they need to send back home.

The Salvation Army said it was getting more calls from people who were victims of domestic slavery in Yorkshire.

Major Anne Read who leads the charity's anti-trafficking team said: "There's an increasing number of victims of labour exploitation and also of domestic servitude. In Yorkshire we're seeing an increase of referrals along every category of this type of exploitation."

A Home Office Statement said: "We have removed the overseas domestic worker tie and are introducing additional reforms to ensure that workers are better protected from abuse and slavery."

You can see more on this story on BBC1 at 19:30 on Inside Out on Monday 3 October

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