AG Recruitment hires Seasonal workers, makes them pay a year’s salary on flights, then dumps them after 2 months leaving them hugely in debt

Nepali workers hired to pick fruit on British farms say they have been left thousands of pounds in debt after being sent home only weeks after they arrived.

The fruit pickers were recruited under the government’s seasonal worker scheme and say they were offered work for six months. But less than two months after arriving, they were told they were no longer needed and instructed to book flights home.

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Even those workers who did not seek the services of recruitment agents paid about £1,500 each for plane tickets and visa fees before setting foot in the UK. One said that while he had just about managed to pay off his debts, he could not afford the airline charges, which could be as high as £200, to change his return flight,

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The findings will fuel concerns about the treatment of migrant workers under the UK’s seasonal worker scheme [which] allows people to work on UK farms for a maximum of six months. Under the scheme, they cannot stay long-term, claim benefits or bring their families.

The number of seasonal work visas issued by the Home Office each year has surged since their launch in 2019, from 2,500 in the first year to an estimated 40,000 in 2022, including many from outside Europe. But the scheme has been blighted by claims of exploitation, with reports earlier this year alleging some workers from Nepal and Indonesia were being charged steep recruitment fees by third-party job brokers, placing them at risk of debt bondage.

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Documents seen by the Observer show the workers were initially told they would be coming to the UK to work on a farm for six months. But about 10 days before they set out, they were informed that this placement had been cancelled and that they would now go to a different farm.

The workers, who had already bought flights and visas, were told the new placement would be for two months rather than six, but say they believed that, after it ended, they would be transferred to another farm. Emails from AG show they were assured there would be “a lot of work” and the chance to earn “good money”.

The workers subsequently travelled to the UK and began work at a farm run by Gaskains in Faversham, Kent. But when those shifts ended less than two months later, they were told by AG that there was nowhere else for them to go.

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Workers questioned why they were recruited near the end of the season and say they would not have come had they known there would only be two months’ work.

“They must know the season is about to end. We didn’t realise that as [it was] the first time we were coming here,” said Kamal*, who is planning to sell off some family land to cover the debts he accrued to come to work in the UK. “Why did they hire us during the end of the season? It would have been better if they hadn’t hired us at all.”

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he early termination of the workers’ jobs would have left them in “complete shock”. “If they manage to buy new flights in time to avoid eviction, that wipes out most of what they earned. But if they can’t, they risk sleeping rough and working illegally on the black market, where they are completely vulnerable,” she said.

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the company said workers were required to “maintain communication with their sponsor as per immigration rules” and could be blacklisted from future work with AG if they did not. It added that it was not responsible for costs incurred by workers for changing their return tickets.

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Source: Seasonal fruit pickers left thousands in debt after being sent home early from UK farms | Immigration and asylum | The Guardian

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