A vibrant economy depends on access to talent and skills from across the world. People who’ve made the UK their home play a crucial role in staffing our public services. Similarly, our higher education system is one of the UK’s leading export industries, and it attracts talent from across the world to engage in cutting-edge research, development and innovation.

However, where migration creates opportunity and dynamism, our immigration system creates dysfunction and vulnerability. It hampers graduates’ ability to use their skills in the UK once they’ve finished studying. It ties workers to employers, putting them at risk of exploitation. Short-term visas create obstacles to integration by preventing workers from putting down roots. Entire families are driven into modern-day slavery because undocumented migrants do not have the right to work.

We can and must introduce safer, fairer and more sensible rules that encourage long-term integration and provide workers with flexibility and freedom from fear and exploitation. Strengthening workplace protections for migrant workers creates better, fairer conditions for all workers.

"A 2018 Freedom of Information Act request revealed that 278 migrants arrested [for illegal working] … were identified as potential victims of modern slavery only after they had been placed in detention."

Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, An inspection of the Home Office’s approach to illegal working (2019)

Our recommendations

  • Abolish employer-dependent visas, so that workers have the flexibility to change jobs or leave an exploitative employer
  • Allow in-country visa applications so that switching doesn’t have to mean leaving the country
  • Decriminalise the offence of ‘illegal working’ so that workers can report exploitation and are not at risk of modern slavery
  • Guarantee complete confidentiality when migrants report workplace abuse, so that they are confident their data will not be used to detain or remove them
  • Allow migrant workers recourse to public support and housing so that no working family is forced to live in poverty
  • Avoid the creation of any visa route which creates artificial barriers to long-term integration
  • Enable overseas students to contribute to the economy by offering two years to find work after graduation

Previous section: Keeping families together   Next section: Responding to forced migration