Many Zimbabweans who came to the UK are trapped in debt bondage to gangs who abused the Certificate of Sponsorship (COS) licences.
This has resulted in Gain Health Care Limited, a company owned by Olinda Chapel, having its licence revoked.
This came after it was found that they charged Zimbabweans thousands of dollars to come to the UK as carers.
The charging for sponsoring applicants is illegal, yet many care companies are taking advantage of Zimbabweans who want to come to the UK to work as carers.
Many people have been ripped off by Chapel.
There is a big shortage of care workers in the UK and as a result, the country called out to workers around the world to ease a staff crisis.
But many have to pay thousands in illegal fees to recruitment agencies which has plunged many Zimbabweans into huge debts.
Following the call for more carers to come to the UK, many came with a big suitcase and even bigger dreams of making thousands of pounds later.
The revocation of Chapel’s licence will leave hundreds of Zimbabweans who came to work at care homes and agents stranded as their visas are attached to the revoked licences.
This group is part of thousands of migrant workers who came after a government recruitment drive to fill more than £100 000 vacancies in social care.
The job would pay £10 an hour – just above the minimum wage.
But it came at a price. In exchange for securing employment, Chapel would charge a recruitment fee of over £10 000.
The Home Office said: “Requiring workers to pay recruitment fees for finding or trying to find them jobs is illegal in the UK and breaches international labour standards.”
The charging of prospective workers is considered a human rights abuse that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.
The criminal activities of charging people for coming to the UK has created a booming industry of recruitment agencies supplying workers to care homes and domiciliary care firms across Britain that pass recruitment costs on to candidates and making perverted profits.
Workers from Zimbabwe – many of whom arrived via a new visa scheme for care workers launched in February 2022 report being charged between £12 000 and £18 000 in illegal fees.
Chapel was charging over 20 000 pounds and then dump the workers once they arrive in the UK.
Most of those abused and ripped off are afraid to speak publicly because their visas are tied to their employers.
But testimony from other workers, who were interviewed by this writer and analysis of payslips, contracts and online chat groups for workers reveals the practice is widespread, with dozens of agencies believed to be charging the fees and practicing unfair labour practices.
The recruiters appear to target workers in lower-income countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, enticing candidates with promises of good jobs or a “dream life” in the UK via social media and word of mouth.
The official visa application fee for individuals is £247, with costs associated with recruitment supposed to be borne by the employer.
The agency said £1 500 would be payable before the interview, £4 000 on receipt of an offer letter and £3 500 after the issue of a visa, with the remainder collected after arrival in the UK.
Another firm said on its website that applicants would have to “pay an agency fee for finding you the job”.
The UK-registered agency quoted £4 500 for a “placement package” including a certificate of sponsorship, a cost normally borne by the employer, and “visa application support” – something only lawyers and registered immigration advisers can legally charge for.
Many agencies are demanding £4 000 from a worker for securing them a £10,10-an-hour healthcare assistant position at a nursing home for elderly residents in the south-east.
Many agencies tell the workers that the fee – equivalent to more than two months’ full pay – was to “cover the cost of the processing of the certificate of sponsorship”.
This is not true and it is fraudulent.
The fees are illegal and fit the International Labour Organisation’s definition of prohibited fees, which include “any costs incurred in the recruitment process in order for workers to secure employment or placement, regardless of the manner, timing or location of their imposition or collection”.
Care workers have become trapped in debt bondage – a form of modern slavery – as a result of being made to pay the fees.
Suspected victims described how agents had deducted money from their salaries and withheld their passport or residence permit until they repaid the debt.
The workers are expected to work “day and night” while working to pay off what they owed.
Others claim to have been misled about their working conditions, paid less than minimum wage and subjected to threats and abuse.
“In one case, a woman was told she would be working in Birmingham but was sent to rural Wales.
Her visa was tied to that employer.
“There is no car, no bus. She is living in the home. They sold their property in Zimbabwe to come here. How will they go back. People are afraid. If they raise their voice they are going to be terminated,” said an observer.
International nurses working for NHS trust and private care homes are as well being trapped in their jobs by clauses in their contracts that require them to pay thousands of pounds if they try to leave.
In extreme cases, nurses are tied to their roles for up to five years and face fees as steep as £14 000 if they want to change job or return home early.
Contracts that tie workers can make it even harder for some to leave their roles.
The repayment clauses are commonly used in the private care sector, as well as by some NHS trusts, and stipulate that workers will pay a fee if they leave before their agreed contract terms ends – usually after two or three years.
“You’re really tired and you’re pushing yourself to the limit. It doesn’t make sense at all,” one worker said.
“Many people back home do not realise recruitment fees are illegal because they are so common. Even if they did, many would come anyway. That’s the most heartbreaking thing. The agents and employers see their desperation.”
Many Zimbabweans in the UK expressed joy on hearing that Chapel’s licence had been revoked.
Chapel and her company and many other Zimbabweans operating care agents have been charging illegal fees and then treat the workers badly.
Many workers were dumped at the airport after travelling all the way from Zimbabwe with the hope of coming to work.
Many United Kingdom newspapers have exclusively reported that “new visa scheme to attract staff to ease the chronic shortages in the sector has left many open to exploitation”
Currently, every Zimbabwean you meet is praying to travel to UK not knowing the predators waiting in the shadows of London’s care homes.-Dr Masimba Mavaza