Migrant carer ‘drowning’ in debt after £15k visa scam

  • By Jemma Woodman
  • BBC South West Investigations

Image caption,

Hamza Mohammed has been speaking out in the hope it will help others affected

A migrant care worker said he was left “suicidal” after being wrongly charged £15,000 for a visa and left “drowning” in debt.

Hamza Mohammed, from Pakistan, was charged illegal fees by a recruitment agent to secure work in Cornwall’s care sector.

He is one of several victims and is speaking out to help others seek help.

His employer, Miracle Care Centre in Redruth, had its sponsorship licence removed by the Home Office in December.

The company has been approached by the BBC but has not responded.

Council contract cancelled

It is also illegal for UK-based agencies to charge job candidates directly for recruitment fees for their services.

Mr Mohammed, 27, was among about 60 migrant workers who were employed by domiciliary care provider Miracle Care Centre.

After arriving in the UK in October 2022, he only received limited hours from March 2023, before having his work suddenly terminated in October 2023, along with others.

Cornwall Council said it had since cancelled its contract with the company and had helped migrant workers find new sponsors.

Devon and Cornwall Police said they was investigating.

Mr Mohammed said: “I was really thinking about suicide. I was thinking: ‘If I go back, who will pay my debts?'”

Image caption,

Hamza Mohammed and Amir Waris lost a total of £28,000

He said he paid the money to an agent believing they were legitimate visa fees.

Many care providers use agents from the NHS Ethical Recruiters list to help them find international staff. Mr Mohammed’s agent was not on this list.

After the jobs were suddenly terminated in October 2023, the workers were forced to survive on foodbank parcels.

The BBC spoke to 11 former Miracle Care Centre workers, who all claimed to have spent several thousand pounds on fees to different agents.

Mr Mohammed said: “We all received a text saying we were not required to go to our shifts.

“I still haven’t received all my money from them – I had to survive for six weeks on free food from an app – it was the only way.”

He said: “When the agent said to me the cost of a visa is £15,000, I believed him. I said ok.

“I had to borrow money from my family, but thought I would earn it back; but there was no job for months and months.

“One time I was told to go to an office in Leeds and wait for work. I slept in my car for three nights but was given no work.”

The BBC has seen text exchanges between Mr Mohammed and his agent requesting payments in exchange for his visa and certificate of sponsorship.

In 2022, the government added care workers to the UK’s Shortage Occupation list, allowing people to be recruited from overseas as long as they were sponsored.

Sponsors are required to pay a minimum salary for a year which is the going rate or higher. That is £20,960 for a care assistant, according to government guidance.

Image source, Hamza Mohammed

Image caption,

Hamza Mohammed slept in his car for three nights when he was not given work

Mary Anson, from Anson Care Homes in Cornwall, said she had helped rescue eight migrant care workers and taken on their sponsorship; five from Miracle Care Centre and three from other providers.

She said some had been “absolutely terrified”.

“Many have been threatened that their sponsorship will be taken away and they’ll be illegal,” she said.

“We only use recruiters to help find migrant workers who are on the government’s ethical list, but it’s not illegal to use someone else.

“We pay all fees, flights; we sort accommodation. But the system has been abused and the worry is, of course, that the law will tighten and it will be harder to get migrant workers who we need to help look after our elderly.”

There are currently about 3,800 carer vacancies in Devon and Cornwall.

Image caption,

Mary Anson has given work to several mistreated migrant workers

Two new recruits at St Mary’s Haven in Penzance were previously sponsored by Miracle Care Centre.

They wanted to remain anonymous but one worker from Kerala in India claimed she was told to arrange accommodation and buy a car when she arrived in the UK, but was never given any work.

She said she received an email stating her job had been terminated because she had refused to work.

She said: “I couldn’t control my tears that day, I was shivering.

“She was like, ‘you are terminated, what about my money?’ I said, ‘what money?'” she said.

Philip Hasbrig-Hartley, director of Hartley Home Care, said he had taken on 15 migrant workers from other care providers.

He said: “We’re getting people from all over Cornwall who have been mistreated by a variety of care providers. Some, as far as we know, are still operating.

“They get placed in Cornwall because there is a lot of demand here, but some of these companies are based anywhere. We’re finding it harder to get more sponsorship licences.”

‘I have debts’

Mr Mohammed has been given a job with a different care provider, along with his colleague Amir Waris, who also worked at Miracle Care Centre.

Mr Waris has been offered work until April. His new employer said it was unable to get more sponsorship licences from the Home Office but was working on it.

He said: “I don’t know what I will do. I paid £13,000 and now I have debts like everyone else.”

One text seen by the BBC shows an agent instructing a candidate to pay co-director [of Miracle Care Centre] Petra Omoruyi £2,500. The agent was previously connected to her through another company.

The BBC tried contacting the Miracle Care Centre and Petra Omoruyi on several occasions but received no response.

Mr Mohammed was sent an email on 15 February 2024 from Miracle Care Centre stating: “We still do not have update for you regarding salaries yet.

“The council have not paid for the duty of care you carried out for the past few months.”

Ethically acceptable standards

Cornwall Council said in a statement: “Miracle Care are responsible for paying their workers for the care they have delivered under both the terms of the sponsorship and the contract.

“We are aware of concerns relating to some care providers’ recruitment practices, and, while such conditions are outside of our contractual control, we urge all providers to recruit and employ within ethically acceptable standards.”

The Home Office said: “The government does not tolerate abuse in the labour market and any accusations of illegal employment practices will be thoroughly investigated.”

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority said Adult Social Care is one of its priorities.

It said it had 22 live investigations across England and Wales relating to the care sector, and had investigated 49 over the previous 12 months, but could not provide regional figures.

Mr Mohammed said he did not believe he would ever be paid his owed wages but said: “Hopefully, when I get rid of my debts, I will be able to live a normal life here; a prestigious life. So, yeah, I’m very hopeful”.

Read More: Migrant carer ‘drowning’ in debt after £15k visa scam

2024-02-21 13:12:12

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