Bishop Patrick Lynch has suggested the UK government’s post-brexit immigration policies could leave the door open for traffickers to exploit non-EU seasonal workers.
The government’s proposals, he said, worryingly lacked proposals to tackle trafficking, an existing problem that experts have warned may be significantly worsened with the exit of the UK from EU border controls and legal restrictions.
Bishop Lynch, an auxiliary bishop of Southwark, is chair of The Santa Marta Group UK, a group that campaigns against human trafficking and modern slavery.
“The government’s planned immigration changes leave many unanswered questions about how these workers will be protected under the new system and what steps will be taken to prevent traffickers exploiting any labour shortages that arise.”
The government’s proposed new immigration system will discriminate in favour of highly-skilled migrant workers, and against “lower-skilled” and lower-paid workers. Oxford University’s Migration Observatory has reported that roughly 15 per cent of low-skilled workers in the UK (around 500,000 individuals) are internal EU migrants.
In response to this expected drop in EU workers, the agricultural sector will this year be able to recruit more non-EU seasonal workers on a temporary basis: up to 10,000 workers in 2020, a quadrupling of the 2,500 per year limit previously allowed. This new limit has attracted heavy criticism from farmers groups, who argue it falls far short of the 70,000 temporary workers required by UK farms each year.
Given the importance of the UK food and drink industry to regional economies, and the heavy dependence of that industry on temporary workers, the discrepancy has also raised concerns that illegal trafficking may fill the labour supply gap.
Pointing to the existing problems with exploitation and trafficking amongst seasonal workers, Bishop Lynch called upon the Government to provide information on “processes for inspecting recruiters, working practices and living conditions.”
“Traffickers will seek every opportunity to abuse new immigration policies so the government has a responsibility to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place.”
Last year the Metropolitan Police reported a more than tenfold increase in the number of trafficking victims reported in London from 2013 to 2018, and the Local Government Association reported an 807 per cent increase in the number of child victims of trafficking.The International Labour Organisation has estimated that 40 million people worldwide were victims of human trafficking in 2019.