A parliamentary committee designated to work on new anti-slavery legislation has called for the laws, first announced in November of last year, to focus on its support of victims. This will include increased legal support, more protection for child victims and appropriate compensation. In order to secure convictions for perpetrators, criminal offence definitions would need to be simplified for the law to be clear about what constitutes the definition of slavery in modern terms.
However, the committee has called for a rethink of recent changes to visa rules for domestic workers. Currently, non-residents can apply for a short stay visa of 6 months or a long stay visa, which can include: applying for asylum, student visa applications, work visas and an EEA family permit.
MPs and Peers working on the committee praised the government today for recognising the “heinous crime” that is modern day slavery, but urged that there was more to be done. One Labour MP added, “The world is watching: we have to get this right”. The committee have emphasised that the definition of modern slavery needed to be clear in relation to the role of foreign nationals as domestic workers here in the UK. In order to stop workers entering the country to work illegally and therefore be drawn into forced labour, or worse false criminal activity such as drug manufacture, the UK Visa application process needed to be less complicated and easier to navigate for those wanting to find legitimate opportunities.
These recent changes to visa rules for domestic workers come as part of a raft of changes to the UK Visa application process. Student visa applications have been subject to stricter regulations since April 2012, which has resulted in a marked decline in the number of foreign students, taking up University places in the UK. The Higher Education Funding Council for England reported that the number of students applying from abroad fell by over 4500 students in 2012 than that of the previous year.
Indeed, the Government visa rules were more recently criticised by campaigners for “licensing modern slavery”. Concerns were raised over cases where rich foreign nationals brought with them their domestic staff, who may be forced to work extremely long hours and can even have pay and food withheld from them. Campaigners feel that domestic workers should be considered under separate visa applications and with the right to work anywhere in the UK, making them subject to protection by employment law. This they hope will prevent the abuse of domestic workers, who would otherwise escape their employers in desperation and could face entering illegal employment, putting themselves at risk of further abuse from criminal gangs. The current legislation, which has been in place since 2012 insists that workers must be tied to their employer, during their time in the UK, meaning they are unable to change jobs.
Immigration is never an easy task for any UK Government but as an EEA country, it is as the Labour MP Frank Field said, “The shift to focus on the victims (of modern slavery) is not only the morally right thing to do” but the “right” way to manage immigration and prevent abuse.