Migrant Care Workers: How to Stand Up to Exploitation

Health & Care Worker Visas

Health & Care Worker visas are a type of work-sponsored visa that tie workers to their employers. We are seeing and supporting increasing numbers of migrant care workers who have been scammed out of thousands of pounds by bogus recruiters, threatened and mistreated by their sponsors, and left worrying about their work, finances, and right to remain in the UK.

Nevertheless, avenues exist to pursue fairness in employment following mistreatment. If you’re a care worker residing in the UK under a Health & Care Worker visa and encountering challenges, this guide is tailored to assist you. (Updated as of May 14, 2024).

Problems with Your Sponsor

What to Do if Your Employer is Mistreating You

The first step is to understand your rights. Everyone has rights at work, including sponsored migrant workers. These rights include statutory rights (like the right to be paid at least the national minimum wage) and contractual rights, which depend on your contract with your employer. Your contractual rights typically cover aspects such as your weekly work hours, pay, and notice periods. To understand your rights, get a copy of your employment contract, and see the UK government website for your statutory rights.

If you believe your employer is breaching your rights, raise this issue with them. Initially, you might want to do this informally (e.g., in a meeting with your line manager), but if the situation continues, it is crucial to put it in writing promptly. Maintain a thorough journal documenting your interactions with your employer, including any correspondence, evidence like emails or notes, and instances of mistreatment or wage deductions. This record will prove invaluable should you decide to pursue formal action against them.

If your employer is threatening you with violence, call the police at 999.

Can My Employer Stop Sponsoring My Visa?

Regrettably, some employers misuse their authority to cease sponsorship as a means to intimidate migrant workers. This practice is unacceptable. Employers authorised to sponsor migrant workers must adhere to all UK legislation, including the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which safeguards individuals from harassment. Failure by sponsor employers to comply with these laws and regulations can result in actions from the Home Office, such as the suspension or revocation of their sponsor license.

Nevertheless, while employers should refrain from using threatening language or violating your employment rights, they retain the ability to terminate your employment. If the dismissal is unjust, you have the option to file a claim with the Employment Tribunal.

Any termination of your employment could affect your immigration status, regardless of its fairness. If you’re concerned that your employer might terminate your employment and stop sponsoring you, the most effective way to safeguard yourself, particularly if you wish to remain employed in the UK under the Health & Care Worker (or Skilled Worker) category, is to promptly secure a job offer from a new sponsor. Depending on your specific situation, you might also explore alternative immigration pathways. We recommend consulting with a certified immigration adviser for personalised guidance.

Seeking Compensation for Employment Rights Violations

If your rights as an employee have been violated, you have options to seek redress. We strongly recommend seeking legal advice before pursuing any legal action.

Employment Tribunals

You can bring a claim to an employment tribunal if you believe your employer has unlawfully treated you. This includes issues like non-payment, unfair dismissal, discrimination, or unauthorised deductions from your pay. Claims must be brought within three months minus one day of the rights being breached. Before filing a claim, you must inform ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), which is a free and mandatory service to attempt to resolve the dispute.

County Court

If the dispute arose more than three months ago and involves issues like unpaid wages contrary to your employment contract, you may consider seeking resolution through the county court system. Court fees apply unless you qualify for exemptions, and there’s a risk of being liable for the opponent’s costs if the case is lost.

Labour Enforcement Agencies – If you don’t feel able to bring a court claim, you can contact one of the UK’s labour enforcement agencies and ask that they act for you. The HMRC National Minimum Wage Team can take action against employers who fail to pay workers their minimum wage. The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) can also take action against employers who fail to pay workers and can make a referral to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for victims of modern slavery.

Could my employer terminate my employment in retaliation for filing a claim against them?

  Unfortunately, the answer is yes, even though it shouldn’t be. Depending on the situation, you may seek compensation later through an employment tribunal, and we strongly recommend seeking advice from an employment legal advisor.

Important: Dismissal could affect your immigration status, even if it was unjust. 

If You Lose Your Job

How does my immigration status change if my employer terminates my employment?

While on a Health & Care Worker (or a Skilled Worker) visa, your permission to stay in the UK is dependent on being employed by an approved sponsor. If your employment with the sponsor of your visa were to end, even if the reason was unfair, your visa would normally be cancelled by the Home Office. You will also not be able to work for another employer until you have been issued a new immigration status.

Employers who are authorised to sponsor migrant workers must tell the Home Office within 10 working days once they have stopped sponsoring someone. You should then receive a curtailment letter in the post from the Home Office to inform you that your visa has been shortened (‘curtailed’) to 60 days (or less, for example, if your visa was due to expire in fewer than 60 days). If you want to continue to work in the UK under the Health & Care Worker route, you will have to find a new employer to sponsor you and apply for a new visa before your current one expires.

IMPORTANT: If you do not make a valid application before your current visa expires, you will overstay your visa and no longer have permission to be or work in the UK. This poses significant risks. It is strongly advised to consult with a qualified immigration adviser.

My employment has ended, but I haven’t received a curtailment letter. Does this mean I can continue living and working in the UK as I did before?

Unfortunately, it does not. Some migrants do not receive a curtailment letter, even long after their sponsored employment ended. This could be because employers failed to notify the Home Office of the end of a migrant worker’s employment, the migrant worker’s address was out of date, or due to a delay by the Home Office.

Once your sponsored employment concludes, your immigration status becomes precarious and may be curtailed without notice. Working elsewhere would also violate your visa conditions. It’s crucial to consult a qualified immigration adviser to explore your options.

IMPORTANT: Keep your details current with the Home Office to ensure you receive essential communications, including curtailment letters. Update your information on the UK government website promptly.


How Can I See My Immigration Status?

The Home Office provides an online service for individuals to verify their right to work in the UK. This tool offers real-time confirmation of your immigration status according to Home Office records. Access the service here: Prove your right to work to an employer: Overview – GOV.UK.

Through the Home Office portal, you can check not only your right to work but also the specific conditions governing your employment. For instance, if you hold a Health and Social Care Visa, you must work under the sponsorship of a designated employer.

Additional employment of up to 20 hours per week is permissible in specified occupations, provided it falls outside your sponsor’s designated working hours. For a comprehensive list of eligible occupations, refer to Tables 1, 2, or 3 in the Immigration Rules Appendix Skilled Occupations.

It is important to remember that while you may be able to access a share code confirming your right to work, if you are no longer employed by your sponsor, you will not be allowed to work an additional 20 hours a week until you get a new sponsor.

If the Home Office identifies that you have been working in breach of the conditions of your visa, this could be used as a ground to refuse your future visa application. Knowingly breaching your visa conditions can also amount to a criminal offence.

Taking on Additional Work

Am I Allowed to Work While I Search for a New Sponsor?

Under a Health & Care Worker (or Skilled Worker) visa, your ability to reside and work in the UK hinges on being employed by an authorised sponsor. If your sponsorship ends, you cannot engage in employment, even with another employer, until you receive new permission to remain in the UK. This may involve finding a new sponsor.

Can I Work Part-Time (20 Hours/Week) in the Meantime?

Typically, individuals holding a Health & Care Worker (or Skilled Worker) visa are permitted to work up to 20 hours per week in a suitable occupation code while sponsored by their employer. It’s important to note that once sponsorship ends, you cannot undertake additional 20-hour-per-week employment until you secure a new sponsor.

Claiming Benefits

Can I Claim Benefits While I Look for a New Sponsor?

People who come to live in the UK under the Health & Care Worker (or a Skilled Worker) route are generally prohibited from claiming ‘public funds.’ Public funds include most benefits and housing support offered by the UK government. The full list can be found in the Immigration Rules, here: Public funds – Immigration Rules Appendix.

In exceptional circumstances, where you are facing destitution and homelessness, you can apply to the Home Office to vary the conditions of your leave so that you can access public funds. You will need to show that you are already destitute or at risk of imminent destitution. We advise that you seek immigration legal advice before doing so.

Finding a New Sponsor

How Can I Find a New Sponsor?

If you need a new sponsor, here are some useful resources:

– Directory of all UK organisations that can sponsor – https://uktiersponsors.co.uk
– Autonomy Institute and The Bureau for Investigative Journalism – list of companies that hold a sponsor license
– Care Quality Commission (CQC) – list of social care providers   

I Found a New Sponsor! Now What?

If you are still within the period of your valid immigration status, you can apply for a new visa under the Health & Care Worker (or a Skilled Worker) route to continue living and working in the UK. You will need to ensure your employer is a licensed sponsor. You will also need a new certificate of sponsorship and ensure you meet all the application requirements. See our resource on how to apply for a Health & Care Worker visa for more details.

IMPORTANT: Check that your potential employer is a licensed sponsor before accepting an offer of employment.

What Happens to My Immigration Status if My Sponsor Loses Their License?

If your sponsor’s license is suspended or revoked, this can affect your visa. If your sponsor loses their license, the Home Office will curtail the visas of all the workers sponsored by them. You will then need to find a new sponsor or obtain a different immigration status to remain in the UK. See our section on finding a new sponsor above.

Recruitment Fees
What if I Am Asked to Pay Recruitment Fees?

You should never pay recruitment fees. If someone tells you that you need to pay for a job, they are trying to scam you. A genuine employer or recruitment agency will not charge you. This is illegal in the UK.

Employers should not seek to recoup the costs of sponsoring you from your wages or withhold your wages. If your employment contract has unlawful clawback clauses, we recommend speaking to an employment lawyer.