Migrant fruit pickers charged thousands in illegal fees to work on UK farms

Ditya*, a single mother from Nepal, is used to traveling abroad for work. For years she has made a living as a migrant farmworker, where she can earn several times what she would in her home country. Last year she applied to become part of the UK government’s seasonal worker visa scheme, picking fruit and vegetables on a farm in Herefordshire that supplies fresh produce to Marks & Spencer (M&S), Tesco, and Waitrose.

Ditya got the job, but it came at a huge cost. In order to secure it, she says she had to pay more than £3,000 – almost a third of what she earned during the six-month post – to recruitment agents. Some of that money covered the cost of her flight and visa application. The rest appears to include illegal fees that labor rights experts describe as “exploitative and extortionate.”

A joint investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) and the Guardian can reveal that as many as 150 Nepali workers who came to work at Cobrey Farms in Herefordshire as part of the government scheme may have paid similar amounts, many of them claiming they paid agents working for a UK-licensed recruitment company.

The findings suggest that the underfunding of labor-rights enforcement, combined with the rapid expansion of the seasonal worker scheme – which aims to plug shortages created by Brexit and Covid-19 – could be putting thousands of migrant laborers at risk of exploitation.

Read the complete article at www.theguardian.com.


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