UK hails drop in visas as stranded Indian care workers appeal for help

Latest Home Office statistics reveal a 76 per cent drop in overseas workers applying for jobs in UK’s care sector and a 58 per cent fall in family dependents in the Health and Care visa category.
Last Updated : 22 May 2024, 15:30 IST
Last Updated : 22 May 2024, 15:30 IST

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London: The UK government on Wednesday hailed a significant drop in healthcare visa applications following its restrictions on family dependants, even as hundreds of Indian care workers who find themselves unfairly stranded in the country appeal for help.

Latest Home Office statistics reveal a 76 per cent drop in overseas workers applying for jobs in the UK’s care sector and a 58 per cent fall in family dependents in the Health and Care visa category in the first full month since restrictions were in place, compared with April 2023. Indian nationals topped the Health and Care visa grants last year.

The number of dependents, or spouses and children, in the student visa category, also registered a significant drop of 79 per cent over the same period since those new rules came into force earlier this year.

“This monthly data is the most up-to-date picture of visa levels, showing that on current trajectories legal migration continues to fall across key routes,” said UK Home Secretary James Cleverly.

“The British people deserve an immigration system that puts their interests first. Our approach is about control and fairness; to the highly skilled coming here who deserve a decent wage, to taxpayers who shouldn’t be relied on to support them, and to British workers who shouldn’t be undercut,” he said.

The monthly data was released to reflect the impact of changes by the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak-led government, which is keen to show falling immigration numbers ahead of a general election later this year.

Since March, previously unmonitored care providers in England acting as sponsors for migrants are required to register with industry regulator Care Quality Commission (CQC)—a move the government said will address worker exploitation and abuse within the sector.

Indian nationals have topped the Health and Care visa grants, with 38,866 given out last year, and are now facing the brunt of these previously lax rules governing dubious recruitment agencies.

“Some of these victims had borrowed thousands of pounds to get the visas and now face deportation for no fault of theirs,” said the National Council of Gujarati Organisations (NCGO) UK, which is lobbying on behalf of these workers, many of whom are from Gujarat.

“Some of these agencies are bogus and operate from a hired desk at serviced offices. The majority of them were not checked for their genuineness by the Home Office and were issued with quotas like confetti,” said Kanti Nagda of the NCGO UK, which is now seeking a meeting with the Home Secretary to appeal on behalf of these workers.

These stranded workers, some of them with families and young children across London, Leicester, Oxford and other UK cities, are desperately looking for job opportunities that fit within their narrow work permit rules or face deportation within 60 days.

“Sixty days is a very short notice for a family to arrange departure as it could unsettle their children's schooling, lead to loss of rent or deposit, furnishing costs, air ticket and relocation costs,” reads an online petition on the UK Parliament website, which is edging towards the 10,000 signatures mark after which the UK government must officially respond.

The Home Office has admitted there is clear evidence that care workers have been offered visas under false pretences, travelling thousands of miles for jobs that simply don’t exist or to be paid far below the minimum wage required for their work.

One impacted worker from Rajkot, currently based in Leicester with his wife and three children, has reported his agency to the Action Fraud helpline and is lobbying the UK government for justice.

“I cannot work anywhere else due to my right-to-work restrictions. But this company is not giving me work and not even completed the joining process in the last four months. I am continuously following up to start work and get back my deposit amount. But I am not getting any response,” says the hapless professional in his letter to Sunak.

It comes amid a wider tightening of UK visa rules, including on student visas which has led to a 12 per cent drop in these applications. Universities and diaspora groups have warned against any further restrictions on the post-study Graduate Route visa, which would lead to a dramatic fall in applications from Indian students – currently topping the tally.

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron is among the Cabinet ministers opposed to changes to this visa route and told the House of Lords on Tuesday: “The point I would always make, even before the introduction of the Graduate Route with the ability to stay on for two years, is that Britain has an incredibly clear offer to international students from around the world.

'If students have an English language qualification and a place at a British university, there is no limit on the numbers that can come … that message needs to go out loud and clear to every country.”

Published 22 May 2024, 15:30 IST

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