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An independent review of the conditions attached to domestic worker visas, published in December 2015, recommended giving all migrant domestic workers in the UK the right to change employer and apply for further leave to remain (but not permanent settlement). The Government disagrees with the recommendation. Instead, it has made more limited changes to the Immigration Rules, with the effect that all domestic workers can change employer during their six month visa, but only those who are found to be victims of trafficking or slavery can change employer and apply to stay for longer in the UK.

Controversial visa changes made in 2012

There are two types of visa for migrant (‘overseas’) domestic workers accompanying employers to the UK: one for domestic workers in private households, and one for private staff in diplomatic households.

More restrictive visa conditions for both visa categories were introduced in April 2012. The changes removed the entitlement to change employer whilst in the UK and introduced further restrictions on how long domestic workers could stay in the UK. They have been strongly opposed by overseas domestic worker advocates and anti-trafficking campaigners. The right to change employer is regarded by advocates as an important protection against abusive employers.

The Coalition Government argued that the 2012 changes were necessary to bring the visas in line with its strategy of prioritising entry for the “brightest and best” skilled migrants and restricting eligibility for permanent residence. It said that many overseas domestic workers changed employer for reasons unrelated to abuse, and that there were other ways of providing protection from abusive employers, such as through the National Referral Mechanism for identifying victims of trafficking.

The Independent Review of Overseas Domestic Worker Visa Conditions

The Coalition Government commissioned an independent review of the visas, in response to concerns about the effect of the 2012 on vulnerable migrant domestic workers.

The report was published in December 2015. It called for all overseas domestic workers to be given the right to change employer and apply for further leave to remain in the UK for up to 30 months. It found that the domestic worker visa terms were incompatible with the protection of domestic workers’ fundamental rights whilst in the UK, and made a number of other recommendations for changes to the visa system.

The Government’s response

The Government has accepted many of the report’s recommendations, but does not agree with reinstating a universal right to change employer and extend stay in the UK for two years. It successfully resisted an attempt to implement those recommendations through an amendment to the Immigration Bill 2015-16. Instead, it has changed the Immigration Rules in order to allow all migrant domestic workers to change employer (for any reason) during the validity period of their six month visa, and to enable domestic workers found to be a victim of trafficking or slavery to apply for limited leave to remain for up to two years, with permission to work as a domestic worker (but no access public funds).

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