Amendment 174

Nationality and Borders Bill - Committee (5th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 10 February 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Hamwee:

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

174: After Clause 67, insert the following new Clause—“Migrant domestic workers(1) The Secretary of State must amend the Immigration Rules to make provision for the matters the subject of subsection (2).(2) All holders of domestic worker or diplomatic domestic worker visas, including those working for staff of diplomatic missions, must be entitled—(a) to change their employer (but not work sector) without restriction, but must register such change with the Home Office;(b) to renew their domestic worker or diplomatic domestic worker visa for a period of not less than 12 months, provided they are in employment at the date of application and able to support themselves without recourse to public funds, and to make successive applications;(c) to apply for leave to enter and remain for their spouse or partner and any child under the age of 18 for a period equivalent to the unexpired period of their visa and of any subsequent visa;(d) to be granted indefinite leave to remain after five continuous years of residence in the United Kingdom if at the date of application their employer proposes to continue their employment.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would serve to reinstate the rights and protections that domestic workers originally had under the terms of the original Overseas Domestic Worker visa, in place from 1998 to 2012.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

My Lords, in moving Amendment 174, I will leave my noble friends Lord German and Lord Wallace to speak to their Amendments 181 and 183. I received a message asking me to pass on the apologies of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, who signed this amendment; she is in her place, but I suspect that she is going to make a hasty exit at some point fairly soon. She is of course the bishop with safeguarding responsibilities. I have her speech on my iPad; we are not allowed to read out other noble Lords’ speeches, which is a pity because it is much more neatly set out than the rather scrappy notes that I have.

The very unhappy position of some—too many—overseas domestic workers and the appalling situations that many of them are in were explained very powerfully to many of your Lordships during the passage of the Modern Slavery Act. One of the things that remains in my memory is the thanks that we received after the discussion on the Bill, even though we had not achieved the changes that we sought. A number of women who had been treated as slaves and prisoners but who had escaped and have connections with the charities working in the sector, particularly Kalayaan, were very keen to get us all together after those defeats to say thank you and of course to continue the campaign. They presented each of us with a single flower, which felt very significant.

It was a cross-party effort at that time. At the end of the day, we did not succeed in amending the Bill, but the Government commissioned an independent review into the terms of the overseas domestic worker visa to see whether it facilitated abuse and, as a result of that, made some changes to the visa regime in 2016. I am advised that these remain, in practice, ineffectual. The Government accepted in 2015-16 that workers need an escape route and should not be trapped working for abusive employers, so they reinstated the right of workers to change employers, but it is limited to the time remaining on the worker’s visa, which is kept at six months—so in practice a worker has weeks or, rarely, months, but very little time remaining to find new employment. Of course, most employers need the certainty of having someone working for a longer period. Many workers do not have their passports and they cannot demonstrate that they have valid leave, so automatically they fail work checks.

The Government also committed to the implementation of mandatory information sessions for workers newly arrived in the UK, in recognition that many—I suspect almost all—workers did not know what rights they had here. These information sessions were also intended to help them to know where to find help, if they found themselves in abusive employment. The right reverend Prelate tabled a Parliamentary Question last year, which confirmed that the commitment has now been abandoned.

Given the barriers that such workers still face in the UK, this amendment would simply serve to reinstate rights which holders of this visa originally had under the terms of the overseas domestic worker visa in place from 1998 to 2012. Concern has been expressed by United Nations experts, who say that they firmly believe that migrant workers should be granted the right to change their employer—and I have explained the problems here. It sent out a communication in July last year to which the Government have responded, confirming that they are looking to understand the nature of exploitation and are developing proposals to reform the route from next year—that is, this year.

There is a lot of evidence that demonstrates that reported abuse is lower when migrant domestic workers—this does not apply only to domestic workers—have rights that enable them to challenge abuse. These rights are not some sort of Trojan horse enabling people to come into the UK on an overseas domestic worker visa and then join the wider workforce. They could not, under this amendment, change work sector; they would have to register with the Home Office. They would have a right to renew but, provided that they were in employment and not dependent on benefits, a right to be joined by family and to be granted indefinite leave to remain after five years, provided that their employment at that time was secure.

Noble Lords will appreciate that this would provide stability and certainty, to which I have referred, to those who are forced to work in the teens of hours each day, every day, and to sleep in the corner of a kitchen, fed on nothing more than scraps from a family’s table. I am not suggesting, of course, that every overseas domestic worker is in this situation, but it seems that many are—and one in this situation would be too many.

The amendment also refers to the visas granted when a diplomatic family brings in a servant for the family. Again, this does not of course apply to all diplomats, but I remember that in 2015 we were told of examples of families from the Gulf with Filipino servants. It would make it practicable for them to find other employment.

As Callaghan put it, working conditions should not have to deteriorate to the point of slavery before workers can access redress and justice. I see that the right reverend Prelate has had to leave. She would have said that, by the standards of this Bill, this is a very modest amendment, merely restoring a model that worked well in the past. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat 5:30, 10 February 2022

My Lords, Amendment 181 seeks an exemption from the immigration health surcharge for international volunteers who come to the UK to work with vulnerable adults and children. International volunteers make a significant contribution to the work of UK charities across the whole of our country, particularly in the health, social care and education sectors.

The decision of international volunteers to travel hundreds and thousands of miles to help vulnerable people in the UK is a huge decision and commitment. Though they might get a subsistence allowance and board and lodge, they receive no salary. Additionally, the volunteers have to pay for their visa, insurance and flights. The additional impact of the immigration health surcharge simply adds to the financial burden on these volunteers and the charities they support, with the net result that the UK will probably attract fewer international volunteers.

Beyond the role they play in our domestic work, helping our society, these volunteers often become friends for life, not just to the individuals they have helped but as friends of the United Kingdom, in much the same way as international alumni of UK universities become friendship ambassadors of this country. They have formed bonds of friendship that can pay big dividends for us as time passes.

This amendment has the support of 55 charities and voluntary sector bodies across Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. These organisations are feeling the impact of this surcharge and are seeking an exemption for their international volunteers. One of these organisations is Camphill Scotland, which supports more than 600 people with learning difficulties and other support needs. It works in the social care sector and has the support of more than 300 international volunteers. Without them, the charity would have to curtail its work. The Welsh Centre for International Affairs supports international volunteers, many of whom work with young people in disadvantaged areas in the south Wales valleys.

By way of comparison, if the work of international volunteers was undertaken by full-time paid staff, each post would cost the charities more than £17,000 per year. Volunteers cost charities about £600 plus subsistence, board and lodge. But the volunteers have to pay £625 for a visa, plus now another £230 for the immigration health surcharge, plus their air fares, plus their insurance. As an example, this is what international volunteer Constantin Jacobs says of the problem:

“There will be so many people that cannot afford to volunteer abroad any more, it might not sound like a huge difference for everyone but for young people who have just finished their school or their studies, and who do not have a lot of money, this difference can mean the decision to go or not to go to the UK to spend their voluntary year there. The UK would be much less attractive as a host country. I am sure that there would be many people who would actually love to go to the UK, deciding in the end to go to another country because of this change. This would be very bad for the volunteers and even worse for the organisations in health and social care systems that rely on volunteers from abroad!”

International volunteers are unpaid—not because they are worthless but because they are priceless. If they are priceless, I hope the Government will consider removing this charge from this one special group of people to allow us to continue the work being done and to create such good will around the world.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 183, which I hope the Government may be willing to accept before Report.

Investor visas were introduced in 1994. They became tier 1 investor visas in 2008. Conditions were tightened under the coalition Government in 2011 and further in 2014. Successive Governments, from different parties, have allowed them to continue. Theresa May announced a review of the scheme in 2018, after the Salisbury poisonings raised concerns about the numbers of wealthy Russians resident in the UK, but so far that review has not been published.

The majority of investor visas have been given to wealthy people from Russia, China and central Asia—all countries with high levels of corruption and extreme inequality. Given the FCDO’s recognition that the greatest state threats to the UK come from Russia and China, this does not fit easily with the Prime Minister’s aspirations for “global Britain”. It has been reported that more than 6,000 golden visas—half of those ever issued—are now being reviewed for possible national security risks. Many of those who received them will by now have acquired full UK citizenship.

Two Court of Appeal judgments in the past year have thrown up new questions about the regulation of this scheme and the sources of the finance pledged by applicants. Paragraphs 49 to 52 of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report, now published over three years ago and to which the Government have been extremely slow to respond, let alone to implement its recommendations, say that

“the UK has been viewed as a particularly favourable destination for Russian oligarchs and their money. It is widely recognised that the key to London’s appeal was the … UK’s investor visa scheme

After warning about the extent of illicit Russian financial activity in the UK, including extensive donations to political parties, the report states in paragraph 56:

“One key measure would be an overhaul of the Tier 1 (Investor) visa programme—there needs to be a more robust approach to the approval process for these visas.”

So far, the Government’s published response to the ISC report makes no reference to this recommendation. If this has been true for Russians, it has also been true for Kazakhs, Azeris, Malaysians and Chinese. The Government recently made a great fuss about a British citizen with close links to the Chinese state and the funds she had donated to a Labour MP. It is surprising that they have so far made much less fuss about our resident Russian-linked community.

In a Bill that is largely designed to make access to UK residence and settlement more difficult, this singles out the very wealthy, who are often also politically exposed people, for easy entry. Home Office records show that, between 2008 and 2020, some 9% of golden visa applications were refused. In comparison, 42% of asylum applications were rejected. The UK has been one of the top 10 to 15 most popular golden visa regimes in the world.

It is also reputed to have one of the fastest application turnarounds globally, with the Government promising a decision within three weeks to applicants. In comparison, the turnaround time for a UK asylum application is six months. It is perhaps ironic that a recent report suggests that the UK has now lost ground in comparison with Cyprus and Malta, since UK citizenship no longer provides easy access to other EU states, including the Riviera and southern Spain—another unintended consequence of Brexit, of course.

Peers will recall May and Johnson’s rhetoric about patriotic “somewheres” and unpatriotic “anywheres”. But these new citizens are the ultimate cosmopolitans, using London as a safe haven while maintaining much of their wealth and business connections offshore. Those who provide for their needs in London serve the ultra-rich without considering the implications for Britain’s sovereignty and reputation. Oliver Bullough’s new book labels British enablers “butlers to the world”. One of them is co-chairman of the Conservative Party.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would believe that the reason the Government have not published the report of the review they promised in 2018, now four years ago, is all of a piece with their reluctance to act on the recommendations of the ISC’s Russia report: that they have something to hide; that Russian money flowed to the Conservative Party; and that the close links between property developers, other enablers and these wealthy people has become, as the ISC report put it, impossible to untangle. I hope that is not the case and that publication of the review will show that it is not so.

However, it is demeaning. A Government who claim to be proud to have restored British sovereignty are selling a fast track to citizenship to dodgy people from dodgy countries. It has distorted the London property market to an extraordinary degree. The Minister will remember Nigel Farage complaining that London commuters hear more Polish and Romanian on their trains home than English. He did not remark that there are parts of Belgravia and Hampstead where you now hear more Russian, Mandarin and Arabic than English. We have imported corruption and, with it, the danger that corrupt overseas wealth will in turn corrupt our own society and democracy.

My Amendment 183 asks the Government to publish this overdue review in full and, in the light of that report, to reconsider whether this scheme should be ended or restricted and policed more tightly.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 5:45, 10 February 2022

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very strong case, but I rise to strongly support Amendment 174, to which I have added my name. I am grateful to my friend Professor Fiona Williams, an important researcher on this issue, and Kalayaan, to whom I pay tribute for all their work on behalf of migrant domestic workers and for their briefings.

As we have already heard, it is clear that the 2016 reforms are not working. Rather than listening to overseas domestic workers and reinstating the original ODW visa, the 2016 changes ignore the need for workers to be able to exercise their rights before exploitation escalates. Support organisations such as Kalayaan and Voice of Domestic Workers report the bind in which the current situation leaves many such workers. Do they risk leaving before abuse escalates? If this abuse does not equate to trafficking, they could be left destitute, without a reasonable prospect of finding work and without access to public funds or legal aid to challenge mistreatment. The desperate need to remit money to one’s family and pay off debts means that workers may not feel able to risk leaving exploitative labour situations.

Professor Williams argues that key to understanding the problems faced has been the shift from placing ODW protection within an employment and immigration rights frame to a trafficking frame. The problem with the latter is that it puts the onus on the worker to prove that they have been trafficked when their exploitation may come from daily infringements of what should be their rights as workers. It leaves them more vulnerable to these infringements, not less.

Kalayaan has given me a recent case study that exemplifies the problem. I will go into some detail because it makes the case rather well. Jenny—not her real name—is from the Philippines. She comes from a poor family but, having won a scholarship to train as a teacher, she was unable to finish her training for various reasons. She later married and gave birth to a daughter who caught an aggressive form of pneumonia, which needed specialist costly private treatment. Jenny and her husband had to borrow money to pay for it. Their joint income could not cover the loan repayments, which prompted Jenny to look for work abroad.

Jenny moved to Lebanon to work as a cleaner. Her employer gave birth to a third child; Jenny was instructed to look after the baby as well as continue her cleaning duties, which was not in her contract. She worked longer hours than expected and was on the go and on call for much of the day. She had wanted to return home at the end of her first contract but was persuaded to stay when the family relocated to London. She was offered shorter working hours and pay at the national minimum wage.

Jenny arrived in the UK last year on a visa. In contravention of UK published policy, she was issued no information on her rights as a worker in the UK, either during the visa application process or on arrival. She worked the same long hours as before and, although she was paid a little more than in Lebanon, her hourly rate was less than half the national minimum wage. Her employer told her that she would be arrested if she left. Nevertheless, she did leave because she was exhausted from her long working hours for pay less than she had been promised.

Jenny approached Kalayaan when her visa had two weeks before it expired, having only just heard of the organisation. Kalayaan explained to her that her visa was non-renewable and that while she had permission to work in the UK, it would only be while her visa remained valid—for the next two weeks—after which she would be subject to the UK’s hostile/compliant environment for migrants. On the basis of Kalayaan’s assessment, it did not consider Jenny to be a victim of trafficking or slavery, so could not refer her to the NRM.

It is worth noting here that even cases that Kalayaan has judged appropriate for NRM referral are frequently turned down on the grounds that, while the working conditions may have breached employment terms, they do not constitute trafficking or slavery. Yet calls for the reinstatement of the original ODW visa are repeatedly met with the response that workers who have suffered abuse can avail themselves of the NRM.

Despite experiencing labour law violations, Jenny’s right to change employer was in practice of no use to her, given that she was not allowed to renew her visa. Had she entered the UK on the original kind of ODW visa, she would have remained visible to the authorities by renewing her visa annually, while contributing in taxes and visa renewal fees. Jenny’s case underlines how unhelpful it is to require maltreated migrant domestic workers to fit themselves into the slavery or trafficking frame, and how their rights would be better protected through the restoration of the original ODW visa.

Professor Williams also argues that the issue should be seen in an international context, where there have been very important advances in employment rights for domestic workers. In particular, ILO Convention 189 on domestic workers has been ratified by 35 countries—but not the UK. Ironically, when the convention was voted on, the UK Government abstained on the grounds that the UK already had a progressive policy—the OWD visa—which they then went on to withdraw. Will the Government therefore now rethink their position and restore the ODW visa without further delay?

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, I support Amendment 183 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, which I am cosponsoring along with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I do not always agree with the Lib Dems, but I think the noble Lord’s arguments were very powerful and need to be listened to. The effect of this route is to sell permanent residence in the UK, and later even citizenship, to anyone who turns up with a couple of million to spare, with no questions asked about where that money came from. It is an extraordinary outcome. I can see why one might have thought this was a good idea initially, but it has turned into a nonsense.

As the Committee may know, this route is for individuals able to make an investment of £2 million. The applicant does not need a job offer or sponsor, and the visa includes all immediate family members. The tier 1 investor visa is initially granted for three years and four months and can then be extended for another two years by providing evidence of an investment of the required amount. The funds must be invested in UK gilts, bonds and equities only—of course, the money can be taken out of those afterwards, so it is a very convenient little entry for your money.

Currently, if you invest—so called—£2 million, you will get your permanent residence in five years; if you have £5 million to spare, it is three years; and if you have £10 million in your pockets, it is two years. The whole thing is just absolutely absurd, frankly. Indeed, between 2008 and 2020 it has led to a total of more than 12,000 such visas being issued. There is not even any economic benefit to the UK in this. According to Sir David Metcalf, a former chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, in 2014,

“the main beneficiaries are the migrants. Investors benefit from, for example, rule of law, property rights and access to efficient markets. Second, at present, the investment is a loan, not a gift.”

A MAC report from 2015 noted that the main proponents of this type of visas are—guess what—law firms, accountants and consultancies that help organise the affairs of such extraordinarily wealthy investors. There are also speculative concerns around whether this investor visa is being used by criminals. In an October 2015 report, Transparency International UK argued that it was highly likely that substantial amounts of corrupt wealth stolen in China and Russia had been laundered into the UK via this visa programme.

It is not clear what will happen to the tier 1 investor visa under the new points-based system—at least, it is not clear to me—but it seems that it will remain in place. I suggest that a thorough review is in order and, meanwhile, the route should be closed, as set out in this amendment.

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks Non-affiliated

My Lords, I am happy to join the noble Lords, Lord Green and Lord Wallace, and others who have brought this amendment. I may not agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, says, but I share with him a passion for the rule of law and a real concern for our reputation for protecting the rule of law. It is a real irony that our reputation for protecting the rule of law is one of the things that attracts people who have very little regard for the rule of law themselves and come from countries which ignore it almost altogether. I am afraid that this Government and their predecessor have a very inadequate record in responding to the threat of corruption of all sorts, and of course I support the proposals in this amendment.

In 2016, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron made a seminal speech about the importance of stamping out corruption. The Minister will remember the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and what a nuisance I was during its passage. I found it inadequate in a number of respects, including unexplained wealth orders, which I did not consider were nearly tough enough. I also put down amendments to try to persuade the Government to establish a register of overseas entities’ property, in order to try to reveal a great deal more about who actually owns vast parts of London. The noble Baroness was emollient and responded that as soon as parliamentary time allowed, there would be an appropriate response. I was slightly reassured by that. I continued to harry the Government. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Young, when he was a Minister, about the progress of matters. He was reassuring—none more reassuring than he—and said good progress was being made.

In 2018, when the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill came before your Lordships’ House, I put down a similar amendment with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, on the register of beneficial owners of overseas entities. The matter progressed through Committee and was debated at some length. It then came to Report, when I was fully prepared to take it to a vote. I was in the Conservative Party then and it was not a popular decision. Quite frankly, I was leant on. I was leant on by No. 10 Downing Street and summoned to a meeting of officials from all sorts of different departments, who told me it was very unfortunate that I was going to do this because the matter was in hand.

I was then told, from the Dispatch Box, that the Bill was a priority for the second Session. It would be introduced by 2019 and the register itself would be operated by early 2021—sooner, if possible. I suppose I then received the prize for being a naughty boy; I was asked to chair the Joint Committee on the draft Bill. We looked at it in 2019. It was an excellent Bill that had been very well prepared by some skilful civil servants. We responded, stressing that time was of the essence. The Government appeared to accept our recommendations.

What has happened? Absolutely nothing. In the meantime, frankly, we look like a laughing stock. We are not responding to the threat of economic crime. We are giving away visas and the rest of the world must think we simply do not care. I thoroughly support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench 6:00, 10 February 2022

My Lords, it is a pleasure and privilege to make this trio of noble Lords—of naughty boys—into a quartet led by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, because I strongly support all the points that have been made. On this occasion, I am talking not about people with millions of pounds, but about domestic workers, mentioned in the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Here, there is another financial imperative for the Treasury, because I have long thought that we force people into the black economy because they simply cannot find a legal way to stay here.

I suggest to the Minister that this amendment would at least help a lot of people to come out into the open and pay taxes. If they could extend legal visas, those people would not go into the black economy and extend that uncontrolled area of work.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

I support all three amendments in this group and particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for two reasons. First, it gives me a rare and particular pleasure to say that I strongly support an amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, among others. His dedication has been remarkable throughout these debates, and this is the first time I have agreed with what he has said.

Secondly, there is just one element missing from the powerful case for this amendment made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. It is partly filled by the remarkable speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, and it is about reputation. The noble Lord said that we have become a laughing stock worldwide but, in America and large parts of continental Europe, it is worse than that. People are not laughing; they think it is beyond a joke. I strongly recommend this amendment to the Minister.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lord, I strongly support the basic thrust of Amendment 183 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I do so having regard to the negative effects of the system of tier 1 visas, both in our own country and overseas. The first undesirable effect of this dirty money is on the economy of London; in particular, the cost of housing being pushed up to unaffordable levels by foreign so-called businessmen seeking secure investments, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. My noble friend Lord Faulks identified a lack of progress by the Government in this area.

I accept that there may be some business opportunities in meeting the demand and providing both professional and artisan services to tier 1 investors. Personally, I would not want to earn my living from dirty money, in effect stolen from people of overseas countries. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, explained this with his usual skill. Not only do some of these tier 1 investors illegally suck money and assets out of their own country to enjoy in ours but they take full advantage of our well-developed system of justice and the rule of law—JROL. This means that they can keep their assets secure and also enjoy a reliable means of passing them on to their offspring. Of course, they have no incentive to seek to implement any decent form of JROL in their own country because it is not in their interests to do so. The lack of JROL and the negative effects of corruption mean that countries such as Russia, and many developing countries, will never be able to achieve their full economic potential.

For instance, defence equipment apart, I cannot think of any manufactured product that comes from Russia. No wonder it has an economy the size of Italy’s, despite its natural wealth, larger, if declining, population, and vast space. It is not for us to interfere with the internal arrangements of other sovereign states, but if we denied oligarchs, the super-rich and despots of countries without JROL the safety and advantages of a safe landing and base in UK and other similar countries, they might be more inclined to seek to put their own countries in order. This would have enormous economic benefits and other benefits for the people of those countries.

I turn to the problem of Ukraine. It is clear that any invasion by Russia will result in severe sanctions against Putin’s regime, including Russian tier 1 investors in the UK who are judged to be close to Putin. I am confident that the Government are planning such potential sanctions as we speak, although the likely targets will already have taken precautionary action. However, if our worst fears are realised, we should go much further and hit all Russian tier 1 investors, whether they are President Putin’s friend or foe. That way, they might be more inclined to get off their posteriors and put pressure on Putin and maybe even think about improving JROL and press freedom in Russia. Furthermore, this course of action would not adversely affect the inhabitants of Russia.

We cannot continue to allow filthy, dirty money to come into the UK via the tier 1 investor visa route, because it pollutes our economy, damages the economies of other countries, and seriously erodes our soft power position.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Amendment 174 would return rights to people in the UK who are on the overseas domestic workers visa—primarily, the right to change their employer and renew their visa for a period of not less than 12 months. The then coalition Government changed the visa regime in April 2012, so that workers and their immigration status are tied to their original employer, and their visa cannot be renewed past six months. That has caused real concern that the working people involved are tied into situations of abuse and slavery. The cross-party Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, as it then was, said that the changes to the regime had

“unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery.”

It concluded:

“Tying migrant domestic workers to their employer institutionalises their abuse; it is slavery, and is therefore incongruous with our aim to act decisively to protect the victims of modern slavery.”

In 2015, the independent Ewins review 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 terms of the domestic worker visa were

“incompatible with the … protection of overseas domestic workers’ fundamental rights while in the UK”.

Unfortunately, the Government disagreed with the recommendation; instead, they 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 modern slavery can change employer and apply to stay for longer in the UK. The problems with this limited approach were set out in the Ewins report: they failed to provide an immediate escape route out of abuse; the six-month limit makes it difficult for people to find other employment; and the national referral mechanism requirement means that a person must have taken the step to report, and met an evidential burden to prove, that they are victim of slavery, which, frankly, many are too frightened to do. We certainly support the thrust of Amendment 174.

Amendment 181 would exempt international volunteers from paying the immigration health surcharge, and I await the Government’s response with interest. I would like to know what consideration the Government have given to extending the exemption, and have the Government met charities which have raised concerns about its effect on volunteering in particular sectors, especially social care?

Amendment 183, about which most has been said—with some feeling and fervour—would require the Government to suspend the tier 1 investor visa route, known as “golden visas”, until the review into those visas has been made public. In its 2020 Russia report, the Intelligence and Security Committee recommended that a key measure for

“disrupting the threat posed by illicit Russian financial activity” is an

“overhaul of the Tier 1 (Investor) visa programme—there needs to be a more robust approach”.

In March 2018, the Government announced a review of golden visas issued between 2008 and 2015. This followed revelations that the Home Office and banks had made next to no diligence checks in that period. According to a freedom of information request in June 2021, the Home Office is reviewing 6,312 golden visas, half of all such visas ever issued, for a range of possible national security threats. Almost four years since the Government announced the review, and as has been said more than once this evening, the findings have not yet been reported.

Many of those who received visas during this period will have been eligible to apply for British citizenship over the past seven years, and it is surely essential that there is full transparency about the findings of the review, including: a detailed breakdown of how many visas have been revoked; how many cases have been referred to law enforcement; and how many applications for renewal or citizenship have been denied.

In the Commons last month, Stephen Kinnock MP asked the following question:

“Six months ago, the Government said that they were finalising their report into how more than 700 Russian millionaires were fast-tracked for British residency via their so-called golden visa scheme. Can the Foreign Secretary tell the House when that long-overdue report will be published?”

The Foreign Secretary’s reply was:

“We are reviewing the tier 1 visas that were granted before 5 April. I am sure the Home Secretary will have more to say about that in due course.”—[Official Report, Commons, 31/1/22; col. 60.]

Therefore, I ask the Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government: does the Home Secretary have “more to say” about this tonight? We are all waiting to hear why it has taken so long to produce this report. In the absence of a credible explanation, one can conclude only that there are some embarrassing reasons that have led the Government to delay producing this report.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 6:15, 10 February 2022

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I thought it might be helpful to slightly unpick the two types of workers—the difference between domestic workers in households and those who work for UK-based diplomats. Obviously they are different groups with different needs, the latter being served by the temporary worker international agreement route, which permits dependants. This is not the only aspect of our domestic immigration system that already provides what the amendment proposes. Both groups of workers are free to change employers; in fact, our existing arrangements already go further than the amendment proposes, and I will outline why.

We do not expect domestic workers to register with the Home Office because we want a worker to be able to leave as soon as their mind is made up to do so, so we must avoid anything that may act as a barrier to exercising that right. Imposing an extra condition now risks undermining changes that have been made for the better. We have already made provisions under which both groups of domestic worker can obtain a two-year extension of stay if they are found to be a victim of modern slavery. I think these arrangements strike the right balance, ensuring that those who find themselves in an abusive employment situation are able to escape it by, first, finding alternative employment and, secondly, encouraging them to report that abuse through the appropriate mechanism.

On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on overseas domestic workers who are not slavery victims, very similar to the case that she has pointed out, but are actually exploited, the Immigration Rules are deliberately designed to prevent the importation of exploitive practices—for example, they set out that they should be paid the national minimum wage. I hope that helps on her point. I appreciate that the case she outlined seemingly falls between the cracks, but the Immigration Rules are very clear on that.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

The fact is that I do not think it is an unusual case; I asked Kalayaan for a recent case study and that is what it came up with. The Immigration Rules are not working in that respect. We have overseas domestic workers who are being exploited but, even when they are referred to the NRM, are told that it is not slavery or trafficking. Would the Minister be willing to look at that again? There is a problem, as she put it, of some people falling through the cracks.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I am not going to look at it again but I will perhaps explore it further and see why what is happening is happening. That is probably fair enough.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

Is the Minister aware that, in some countries, applicants choose those families that come to London regularly in the summer, with a view to leaving them after a month or two and settling, legally or otherwise, in the UK? The system needs to be fairly tight to avoid trouble on that front.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

Between what the noble Lord has just outlined and what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has just said, that probably explains both ends of the system in different ways.

On visa extensions, although I fully support the noble Baroness’s determination to improve protections for migrant domestic workers, rewinding the clock and reinstating the features of a route that were deliberately removed almost a decade ago is not the answer—probably, in part, for some of the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, outlines.

The overseas domestic worker visa caters specifically for groups of visitors who by definition stay for short periods. That visa allows private domestic staff to accompany their employer where that employer enters the UK as a visitor and where they intend to leave together. Approximately 20,000 visas are issued every year on that basis, and the vast majority leave well within the validity of their visa.

The amendment seeks to reintroduce features of the route which were removed for good reason. We must not forget that abuse existed before 2012 and be mindful that allowing overseas domestic workers to stay could inadvertently create a fresh cohort of recruits for traffickers. We must avoid a route that could be used by criminals to entice victims to come to the UK.

Noble Lords have referred to the report, commissioned by the Government, by James Ewins QC, which, crucially, did not establish a direct link between the length of stay and the likelihood of exploitation. Years later, this picture remains. There is no greater risk if a domestic worker is here for two weeks or 12 months, so increasing the length of time that they can stay will not afford them greater protection from being exploited.

I think that the noble Baroness and I share the same objective of the delivery of a safe and appropriate system for a very vulnerable category of workers. However, for all the reasons that I have given, we do not agree on the means of achieving it.

I am aware of comparisons that have been made between those employed in the healthcare sector who are exempt from the health charge and those who come to the UK as volunteers. However, there are very clear and important distinctions between workers and volunteers on the charity worker visa. The route should not be used to fill gaps in the labour market, even on a temporary basis. To answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, yes, we have been engaging with charities. The Government think that appropriate immigration concessions are already in place, which support volunteers on this route. The charity worker visa offers a low fee, compared to other work routes, and sponsors pay a lower licence fee, in recognition of their charitable status. While the charity worker route is the main route for volunteers, it is not the only way in which volunteers can be recruited to support the work of charities.

I note the concern of the noble Lord, Lord German, that the immigration health charge might deter volunteers from coming to the UK. Published figures indicate that, for the years immediately preceding the pandemic—clearly the years after that are very unusual—the number of charity visas granted remained broadly consistent. This indicates that volunteers are not being deterred by having to pay the health charge.

The NHS must continue to be properly funded and the immigration health charge plays an important role in that. It has generated almost £2 billion for the NHS since its inception, and it ensures that temporary migrants who come to the UK for more than six months make a direct contribution to the comprehensive range of NHS services available to them during their stay. Those who pay the charge can, from their point of arrival in the UK, use the NHS in broadly the same way as a permanent resident, without having to make any prior tax or national insurance contributions. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord German, will not press his amendment.

On Amendment 183, I hear noble Lords loud and clear. I recall the debate that my noble friend Lord Faulks and I had during the Criminal Finances Bill. I also completely acknowledge the point about those relying on funds that have been illegitimately acquired. It is because of those concerns that we have committed to a review of visas issued under the route between 2008 and 2015. We are finalising the review, if noble Lords can be patient, and we will publish it in due course—I knew there would be a sigh from behind me and in front of me when I said that.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Four years is quite a long time to produce a report. Why has it taken four years to date and why are the Government still in a position where they cannot really give any proper indication of when it will be produced? “In due course” is the cop-out expression for a Government who do not really know.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I will have to think of a new phrase: perhaps “shortly”.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I say to noble Lords that I share their concerns. I will also be writing to the Committee before Report on this very matter. Since 2015, we have excluded investment in government bonds and strengthened the rules to ensure that investments are made in active and trading UK companies. Applicants must also demonstrate that they have a wealth of at least £2 million for at least two years, up from 90 days, or provide evidence of the source of those funds. We require banks to explicitly state in a letter to the Home Office that they have completed all requisite customer due diligence and know your customer checks prior to opening the applicant’s account, and we have increasing evidential requirements where migrants have invested their qualifying funds through a chain of intermediary companies so that the Home Office can better assess the ultimate destination of qualifying investment.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I hope the Home Office has consulted the FCDO on this issue. The Minister will be aware of the report from the Center for American Progress in Washington which argues—and this is the conventional wisdom in Washington as far as I can see—that we are the weak link in the West’s relations with Russia, and the reason why we are the weak link is because of this large colony in London with such close links to Putin.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I acknowledge all the points that the noble Lord has made and agree that there is more to be done here. I do not think anyone could deny that. The Criminal Finances Act was a start and there is more to be done in this space, most definitely, but I think I will leave it there. I hope, with what I have said, that the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Justice and Home Affairs Committee

My Lords, my noble friends both made very powerful cases. I hope that my noble friend Lord Wallace will forgive me if I make only one comment on his amendment, in fact in response to what the Minister said about banks checking up: I wonder whether the banks check up on the holders of golden visas as often as they check up on noble Lords who are PEPs.

With regard to my amendment, like the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I ask why we would have been asked to propose this amendment if there were no problem. I regarded the registration with the Home Office as a sort of olive branch, something that might make the Government feel a little more comfortable. The Immigration Rules are not working because there is not the distinction to which she and I have referred.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton—how is “Berkeley” pronounced? I should know from hearing him on the radio—referred to the financial aspect of this and forcing people into the black economy. It is wider in respect of people who are here irregularly, of course, because it is hugely important. But it is exactly the same as the point made by the Minister that if the situation were changed it would provide a group of people who would be—I wrote it down—a cohort for traffickers, but that is exactly what the danger is now. I am puzzled and disappointed but clearly we are not going to make progress today, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 174 withdrawn.

Amendment 174A not moved.

Clause 68 agreed.

Clauses 69 and 70 agreed.

Clause 71: Electronic travel authorisations