Unions and NGOs Demand Reform to UK’s ‘Abusive’ Farm Worker Visa Programme

Letter calls on the government to review the Seasonal Worker Visa scheme after an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and VICE World News.
Max Daly
London, GB
farmer worker visa letter
File picture. Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Migrant worker experts, NGOs and unions have written to the UK government urging it to overhaul a visa scheme which they say is allowing exploitation on farms to go unchecked. 

A letter, signed by 19 organisations and academics, was sent Tuesday to three government departments demanding that the Seasonal Worker Visa scheme is reviewed to prevent widespread “abuse and exploitation” of people coming to the UK to work on farms to cover agricultural workforce gaps left by Brexit. 


It follows an investigation published Monday by VICE World News and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which uncovered widespread mistreatment of migrants working under the scheme at more than 20 UK farms, nurseries and packhouses supplying some of the UK’s largest supermarkets. 

People working on farms that supplied fruit and meat to supermarkets such as Tesco, Co-op and Lidl said they were subject to debt bondage and regularly punished by having shifts cut short or being threatened with deportation if they did not meet strict targets. They said they were not paid full wages and were routinely sanctioned for trivial reasons such as talking to colleagues or having mobile phones in their pockets.

“Workers are incurring debt, travelling long distances and leaving their families behind with the promise of decent work. Unless the Government makes a serious commitment to protect them by urgently overhauling this visa scheme, they will continue to be abused and exploited in return,” said the letter, whose signatures include the Trade Union Congress and Anti-Slavery International. 

It said the government should appoint an independent agency to monitor the scheme and ensure workers who are bonded to abusive employers are able to leave without being kicked off the scheme. 

The letter was sent to the Home Office, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, the Director of Labour Market Enforcement and the Migration Advisory Committee.

It was signed by: Bev Clarkson, Unite the Union; Kate Bell, Trades Union Congress; Siobhan McGrath, University of Durham; Caroline Robinson, Worker Support Centre; Roxana Barbulescu, University of Leeds; Marissa Begonia, Voice of Domestic Workers; Dr. Manoj Dias-Abey, University of Bristol; Eleonora Fais, Anti Trafficking Monitoring Group; Rita Gava, Kalayaan; Lucila Granada, Focus on Labour Exploitation; Dr Joyce Jiang, University of York; Victoria Marks, Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit; Tim Nelson, Hope for Justice; Jasmine O’Connor, Anti Slavery International; Konstantinos Alexandris Polomarkakis, University of Exeter; Dr Natalie Sedacca, Durham Law School; Adis Sehic, Work Rights Centre; Andy Sirel, JustRight Scotland; and Dr Inga Thiemann, University of Exeter.