“I should be in a position of helping, not receiving aid,” says one Nigerian woman.
Fraught with emotion and speaking to us anonymously in the narrow corridor of a food bank, she is now destitute despite being promised a job in Britain.
Blessing, not her real name, told us she arrived in the UK three months ago. She says she paid someone she calls an “agent” in Nigeria £10,000 to arrange a job as a carer in the UK.
But when she got here she found there was no work for her.
Her story is part of a wider problem, revealed in a Sky News investigation this year showing how the skilled worker visa system is being abused with middlemen allegedly being paid huge sums of money to arrange jobs in the UK as carers that do not exist.
Many of those who can’t get work are struggling to survive, turning to food banks and even sleeping rough.
Blessing is now reliant on handouts.
At a food bank in a Nigerian Community Centre in Greater Manchester she is given a shopping bag of basic supplies – the shelves and crates are packed with donations of bread, cereal, tinned tomatoes and familiar African items like palm oil and beans.
Blessing says: “I’ve always provided for myself. I’m a very hard-working, diligent person. So for me to be here depending on people to eat coming to the food bank to get food isn’t ok with me.
Blessing paid an ‘agent’ in Nigeria £10,000 to arrange a job as a career in the UK
“I don’t feel happy about it.
“It makes me feel I’m less of a person. I should be in a position of helping not receiving aid because this is not who I was back in my country.”
‘It makes me feel as though I’m a fool’
Blessing asked us not to contact the British company which sponsored her for fear of repercussions – but showed us her passport and other documents supporting her account of what happened.
I ask her why she didn’t make the application herself. With some irony, she says: “I would have done it myself but there are so many frauds on the internet [in Nigeria] you don’t know what’s real.
Blessing, not her real name, arrived in the UK three months ago on the promise of a care job. Images by Andrew Brown and Mostyn Pryce
“It makes me feel as though I’m a fool,” she says.
Blessing says she knows others who have skilled worker visas only to get here and find there’s no work waiting for them.
She sighs: “There are so many. Dozens. I met a lot here and so many are still coming after I’ve come. There’s a big scam going on.”
Mary Adekugbe, the founder of the Nigerian Community Centre in Rochdale, says those on skilled worker visas now needing support is a big issue that is increasing her workload – something she describes as “shameful”.
Mary Adekugbe, the founder of the Nigerian Community Centre in Rochdale
About 15 of the 35-40 people who generally come to the weekly food bank have skilled worker visas, she says.
“We are overwhelmed,” she says. “People are desperate. It’s so worrying.”
She paints us a picture of those she has seen: “A grown-up man crying like a baby. Children crying without food because their parents can’t work to support them. No houses. No job. This is alarming.”
‘She sold everything she had’
As we finish chatting by the front door two women scurry past with their bags of food. It’s only afterwards we’re told their story – that they were too ashamed to speak to us: one of the women has hit rock bottom and, with nowhere else to go, lives on the bus.
Community volunteer Jones Adekube says: “Last week we gave her bread and tuna because that’s what she can eat easily without cooking or warming.”
At the food bank, shelves and crates are packed with donations
There are also familiar African items like palm oil and beans
Now homeless, the lady on the bus is yet another person who paid an agent in Nigeria to arrange care work in the UK, we’re told.
Mr Adekube says: “She did some work when she came in. Initially, they gave her one shift a week which is 12 hours a week. As time went on there were no shifts.
“According to what she showed us she was offered a full-time job as a carer. And now she’s sleeping on the bus.”
He adds: “She’s in a bad way. She can’t go back home. She has nothing at home. She sold everything she had.”
‘It’s not been easy’
Another couple – we’re calling them Allen and Joyce – have come to the UK with their young son.
We’ve changed their names but they showed us documents which prove they’re in the UK on skilled worker visas.
Allen and Joyce (pictured from behind to protect their identities) have come to the UK with their young son
Joyce says she was also promised work as a carer and Allen was able to accompany her because he is classed as her dependent.
Allen says: “It’s not been easy. I had to sell my car; sell my property, get a loan and took a lot of risk to raise the money.”
Under the terms of the skilled worker visa they can’t work in any other job category and are limited to 20 hours a week under another employer in the care sector.
Often, home care providers require access to a car, and permanently switching sponsors is almost impossible.
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