Migration Pulse

It’s a numbers game... could we PLEASE use the right ones?

Migration, or ‘net migration’ to be more specific, has become all about the numbers. If the Government insists on making decisions about removing protections from vulnerable migrant women workers a numbers game, then they should at least use the right numbers.
August 18, 2011
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Jenny Moss

Jenny Moss is a Community Advocate at Kalayaan where she has worked since 2007 giving advice to migrant domestic workers, and campaigning with them, helping them to raise their voices to policy makers. Jenny worked previously for Toynbee Hall in financial inclusion and has also worked in Public health research in Bangladesh and the UK.

I am no statistician but I do have a basic grasp of Maths (got an A level, all be it many years ago) and I do enjoy the occasional read of that bad science column in the Guardian or a listen to the programme ‘more or less’ on radio 4.  My current frustration with a spurious use of numbers is not a principled objection to ‘bad science’ but comes from the fact that if the Government insists on making people’s lives a numbers game, then they should at least use the right numbers.

Kalayaan MeetingThe Government has said they will reduce net migration.  There have been all sorts of discussions about whether Government targets are realistic, their methods well advised or even whether a numbers game is a useful approach to the problems they purport to be trying to solve.  That is not really what concerns me right now.

My concern is that recently the Government proposed to remove all the rights from the very vulnerable migrant workers that I work with.  Currently migrant domestic workers have a visa status independent of their employer and can find a new employer if they are mistreated.  This basic protection was introduced in recognition of the vulnerability of migrant domestic workers after some horrific stories of abuse and exploitation of migrant domestic workers came to light over a number of years.

The Government proposes to remove this right to change employer as part of their overall reforms of the immigration system which they are undertaking to reduce net migration.  I find it somewhat problematic that decisions that will put vulnerable women at risk of human rights abuses are made in order to knock a few people of the UK net migration total but that is the situation we find ourselves in, so I would at least hope that those in charge are using the right numbers.

In the consultation on the changes to the domestic worker visa, the Government state that 10,100 visas were issued to migrant domestic workers in private households in 2009 and 15,350 in 2010.  The 2009 figure conflicts with figures previously given to us by the UKBA which state that there were 15,000 domestic workers in 2009 but that is not the point. The more important point is that ‘visas issued’ does not equal net migration, which is what the Government claims to be concerned with.  Nowhere in the consultation is it mentioned that most of these domestic workers return home again with their employers.

In two letters to Kalayaan the Home Office have possible tried to address this issue but give even more misleading figures. They quote that in 2009 10,000 ODWs came here to work in private households and in the same year 6,000 extended their stay. These figures are presented implies that 60% of domestic workers who enter the UK stay in the UK after their first visa, and that 6,000 each year can be counted as net migrants. This is wrong and what is frustrating is that I have explained that these figures are wrong and why they are wrong in a number of meetings, one with the Immigration Minister himself and yet they are still used.

The figures are wrong because Domestic workers have to renew their visa every year until they either leave the UK or they apply for settlement after five years.  This means that the 6,000 figure used by the UKBA refers to domestic workers who have entered the UK in any year between 2005-2009. The figure of 6,000 needs to be divided across the five years of domestic workers renewing their visa; the contribution made to net migration by the overseas domestic worker visa is therefore approximately 1,200 each year.  Actually the UKBA previously gave Kalayaan figures for renewals in 2009 as 5,050 in a private household or 5,285 if you include domestic workers with diplomats therefore the net migration figure for domestic workers in 2009 based on the UKBA figures was closer to 1000.

So, now we know what we are dealing with. 1000 people. That is the approximate number of migrants who are brought to the UK by their employer on a domestic worker visa and for whatever reason, be it mistreatment or not, do not leave again with their employer. That is the number the Government will knock of their net migration total if they choose to remove the right to change employer and take us back to a system of bonded labour in the UK. It is a Government decision to make but let us at least be clear about the numbers.

If you are thinking of responding to the Government consultation (running until 9 September 2011), MRN has prepared a model response to the consultation and an in-depth analysis of the main proposals (including the implications the consultation would have for domestic workers). Find out more about the consultation and how you can respond.
Migrant domestic workers will be rallying in Old Palace Yard on September 4 from 11am-1pm to demand that the Government drop their proposals to return migrant domestic workers to slavery. Come and join the protest.

Comments

Hi Jenny,

Thank you for writing this, it's pretty scary. The way we are capable of treating who are not part of the 'in group' is terrible.

I had a question about how you arrived at the 1,200 number, but in writing it out I have realised that I no longer have a question - the uncertainty arose from my misunderstanding 'renew their visas' because I thought that could include those who arrived with their employers. That's not especially important now though, so I'll just thanks again for writing this.

What hope do you have that it's possible to change this decision?

@Tom Scott

Migrant domestic workers will be rallying in Old Palace Yard on September 4 from 11am-1pm to demand that the Government drop their proposals to return migrant domestic workers to slavery. 

You can find out more about the protest here:

http://www.migrantsrights.org.uk/events/2011/no-return-slavery

Dear Jenny.

Thank you for your valuable information and insights.

"This is wrong and what is frustrating is that I have explained that these figures are wrong and why they are wrong in a number of meetings, one with the Immigration Minister himself and yet they are still used."

Which seems to infer that you are dealing with shameless charlatans, cooking the books to affirm their political credibility, indifferent to the raw human misery which they are unconscionably engendering?

Warmest wishes,

G.

Nice article Jenny - good ammunition.

Apart from replying to the UKBA consultation and supporting the demonstration on Sept 4th, another angle is the role of LibDem Minister for Employment Relations, Ed Davey. It was him (along with Vince Cable) who was responsible for the UK delegation refusing to support Convention 189, recognising domestic workers' rights at the ILO conference.

Here in Sheffield, we are getting used to Nick Clegg using the "but we're in a coalition" argument to justify abandoning pre-election commitments to asylum seekers' right to work, ending child detention, not limiting ESOL provision etc. But at the ILO conference it was a LibDem who led opposition to workers' rights.

We discussed this issue at a campaign meeting last night - along with a report from Syria. Ironically, the Syrian government must have supported the domestic workers' rights resolution, unlike the Lib Dems!

Here is a report from the protest organised on 4 September: "Domestic workers demonstrate over UK visa changes"

Hundreds of migrant domestic workers have demonstrated outside Parliament against proposed changes to their UK visa conditions.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14778107

Great to see these courageous workers standing up for their human rights! Thanks for sharing the link, Jan.

Hi jenny you are too great for that