Clause 8 - Offence of illegal working

Part of Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 27th October 2015.

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Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Civil Liberties) 3:00 pm, 27th October 2015

I wonder whether there is a misunderstanding, or at least an underestimation, of how vulnerable some of these workers are. Does the Minister realise the extent of their vulnerability? If he does, will he change his mind about criminalising those who work illegally?

I will cite an example of not a young vulnerable woman trafficked here as a sex slave, but someone whom hon. Members might use as an example of why we need to criminalise. On my travels a few years ago, I spent time with a man called Mehdi, who was fit and healthy in his mid-thirties. He was married to Rezi, who was pregnant with their first child. They sought asylum in the UK—I met him some years after all this happened—and ended up in Glasgow where, despite their best efforts, they were refused asylum because they could not prove they were in danger. She had a miscarriage and they were made destitute. They were told they would be deported and they embarked on a terrible downward spiral. They removed themselves from all support mechanisms, so frightened were they of being found and deported to certain danger, but they could not survive here, so Mehdi found a job. He knew he was not allowed to do that, as did his employers, who took advantage of that knowledge and made him work extremely long hours for £3 an hour.

Mehdi was abused, exploited and occasionally beaten. He was worked until he would regularly collapse with exhaustion, but he had no choice. Some Government Members might argue that he did have a choice because he could have gone back to his home country. However, he was not working not just to feed himself and get by in life in Glasgow, but to save money to buy false passports so that the couple could get out of the UK and away from the danger of deportation to his home country. Who among us would not do whatever it took to protect our loved ones and our own lives if we had to?

If the Bill had been in force when Mehdi was doing all that, what might the outcome have been for this loving and protective husband? This kindly but damaged man could very well have ended up in jail, followed by  being deported to the country that he was so afraid of returning to. For him, the worst part would have been leaving his wife—