Home Secretary must scrap transit visas, says MNWB

Home Secretary must axe transit visas, says leading maritime charity

A leading maritime charity has written to the Home Secretary Priti Patel calling for transit visas to be ABOLISHED amid growing fears of exploitation within the UK fishing sector.

The Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB), the umbrella organisation for charities that provides welfare services to merchant seafarers and fishers within the UK, believes the use of transit visas are currently being abused by fishing vessels.

Transit visas are designed for seafarers transiting through the UK to reach their departing ship. While they work for Merchant Navy seafarers, they are unsuitable for foreign fishers working on UK-based fishing vessels, it says in the letter to Ms Patel.

In many cases, these fishing vessels operate to and from a UK port and lack many basic labour protections in respect of pay and working hours, with many migrant fishers being subjected to racial and physical abuse. Reports of this nature have been documented in a new research by the University of Nottingham Rights Lab: Letting Exploitation off the Hook? Evidencing Labour Abuses in UK Fishing, which sought the views of fishing crew on what it’s like to work within the UK fishing industry.

Deputy Chief Executive of the MNWB, which was formally recognised by the UK Government in May 2021 as the National Seafarers’ Welfare Board, in accordance with ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006, Sharon Coveney said:

“We are strongly urging the UK Government to abolish transit visas and replace them with a specific visa regime that acknowledges our need in the UK fishing industry.

“The catalogue of problems that surround transit visas are no secret. The government must now intervene to ensure there is transparency across the sector and migrant fishers are treated humanely and this type of despicable exploitation ends once and for all.”

Currently, many migrant fishers seek protection and support from the police and other statutory authorities as they enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). This allows their allegations and circumstances to be assessed, appropriate support provided, and a decision made as to whether they should be granted discretionary leave to remain in the UK while an investigation takes place.

Understandably, foreign fishers in the NRM would like to be able to work during the period while their cases are being assessed. However, their transit visa is not a work visa and does not entitle them to work in the UK. This differs from foreign nationals, employed as fruit pickers on a domestic visa while being subjected to slavery, who can work while in the NRM.

“In light of this, we also need the Home Office to remedy the injustice of foreign fishers being unable to work while in the NRM as this means that they are stripped of their dignity twice, once by the skipper who exploited them, and secondly by the UK’s immigration system,” Ms Coveney added.

“This will not change unless urgent action is taken – and this is why we are writing to you Home Secretary to help combat this problem.”

Read the letter in full here