“I have put her as your wife, so take her.”
As Ratha, a Sri Lankan rice farmer, stood at Colombo Airport waiting for his ticket to the UK, the job recruiter gestured to a woman he had never seen before.
“Unless you go with her, you will have trouble and your money will not be returned,” he was told.
Ratha had paid this man – who he believed to be a recruitment “agent” – £50,000 for passage to the UK, selling property that had been in his family for generations.
But in being forced to pose as someone’s fake husband, he claims to have fallen victim to criminal gangs exploiting the UK’s skilled worker visa system.
While Rishi Sunak has made stopping English Channel small boat crossings one of his key priorities, Sky News can reveal allegations a legal route is being used for people smuggling.
Criminal gangs are using Britain’s need to fill jobs by using the skilled worker visa system as a route to move people to this country. Under the scheme, someone who has been offered a job in the UK is allowed to bring dependents with them.
But Sky News has been told about multiple cases where the entitlement to bring dependents on a skilled worker visa is being abused.
The hefty price tag
Ratha says he paid the money because he believed it would result in a job, and eventually, permanent residency in the UK.
The woman who pretended to be his wife – the owner of the work visa – has now disappeared.
He is staying with friends in Staffordshire because his relatives don’t want him to be alone, fearing for his mental health.
He claims he was fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka, and was unaware he would be travelling as a fake dependent on someone else’s work visa before he got to Colombo airport.
“I thought I was the only one travelling. At the entrance of the airport I was told to wait then a woman arrived,” says Ratha.
“The agent said: ‘I have put her as your wife, so take her’.”
At first, he refused to go along with the plan but he claims to have been threatened and refused a refund.
The fake son
With Ratha came a 19-year-old, who says he pretended to be his son.
His name is Hinthujan and he’s now living in Liverpool. He cuts a fearful, lonely figure.
His family spent their life savings on his journey to the UK hoping he could join their relatives in the city’s Sri Lankan community.
Hinthujan says he had no idea what was happening until he got to Colombo Airport, where he was forced to partner with a fake father and mother.
Unable to speak a word of English, he is now an asylum seeker after the group were questioned and detained at Heathrow Airport.
“There are lots of problems going on in Sri Lanka. It is not possible to stay there – that is why we came,” he told Sky News via a translator.
“I was scared when [the agent] told me, ‘If you say they are your mother and father, there will be no problem’.”
‘I felt scared but couldn’t do anything’
When Mrs A turned up for her flight from Sri Lanka to the UK, she says the people she paid £65,000 to for a work visa handed over her permit, flight tickets – and a 12 year-old boy.
“It was a shock,” she says. “It was all last minute. I felt scared but couldn’t do anything about it. They guaranteed there wouldn’t be any problems.”
After they landed at Heathrow Airport, the boy was met by people Mrs A didn’t recognise and she never saw him again.
Mrs A – who asked not to be identified – said the visa was issued by the British High Commission in Sri Lanka.
“It was only after I arrived in the UK that I realised it was a big mistake. I know I’ve been used.
“The boy already knew he was coming into the country but I didn’t know.”
Mrs A handed over the sum of money believing the agents would find her work in the UK – and that she didn’t need to speak English.
She was offered a job by a care company and then provided with a Certificate of Sponsorship by the Home Office enabling her visa. But it’s a basic requirement for people coming to work in the UK as carers on skilled worker visas to speak English.
Mrs A can’t read, write, or speak English and has no qualifications. But a fake certificate used by the gang to apply for a job lists her as having a “very good pass” in an English exam.
Sky News has obtained the false documents submitted to the care agency with her job application. They include a nursing diploma and fake certificates for biology, physics and chemistry.
Her fake CV boasts she spent seven years “providing direct nursing care to patients in a busy hospital ward environment” – and two years providing care to patients in a home for the elderly.
It says she’s skilled at safe patient handling and first aid.
None of this is true.
What are skilled worker visas – and how many are granted each year?
In February 2022, the Government changed the rules for those wanting to come to the UK to work, making it easier for those from abroad to apply.
It expanded the Shortage Occupation List and removed the requirement to prove that UK residents were unable to fill any listed roles. Care Support Worker is the lowest-skilled job on this expanded Shortage Occupations List.
The Migration Advisory Council’s annual report recommended the change, as well as setting a minimum salary of £20,480 per year.
The government agreed with this recommendation at the time “to help ensure short-term sustainability as social care builds back from the pandemic”.
Last year, almost 150,000 people came to the UK last year on skilled worker visas.
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‘People sell everything and end up with nothing’
Zeena Luchowa, from the Law Society Immigration Committee, said: “It’s extremely alarming and concerning that we have a system that is not catching exploitation at this level and there needs to be some way of the home office reviewing its systems to look at what’s not working here.”
Sky News contacted the firm Mrs A thought she was coming to work for. It said they had no idea the documents used for Mrs A’s application by the recruiters in Sri Lanka were fake.
Care England represents the largest number of independent adult social care providers in the UK. It confirmed that there is no “specific requirement” for any healthcare-related qualifications to come to this country as a carer. But it is a requirement to speak, read, write and understand English to at least an intermediate level.
Mrs A’s legal adviser said: “The British government needs people. But the criminal gangs use this work permit legal system for their own benefit to make a lot of money.”
Meanwhile, he said, people from other countries “sell their jewellery and property, give it to criminal gangs and end up with nothing. They come here and can’t work, can’t rent and end up on the street.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are actively investigating the claims made.
“Abuse of our immigration system will not be tolerated. Anyone who has used false documents, misrepresented their personal circumstances or practiced deception by any other means will have their application refused and may face a ban on making further applications for up to 10 years.”
The Home Office is now reviewing its processes to try to prevent future abuse of the skilled worker visa system.
‘I sold everything three generations of my family worked for’
Vinothan is another Sri Lankan who has joined the UK’s backlog of asylum seekers. The job he thought he was coming to do didn’t work out.
Vinothan, his wife and two young children are now living in a friend’s spare room. He claims the family can’t return to Sri Lanka because they’ve been threatened by the criminal gangs who arranged their working visa to the UK.
He paid £26,000 to people in Sri Lanka for a full-time job offer to work as a carer at a British company – not the same one Mrs A applied for.
On induction day, Vinothan says he got a uniform but no paid work. He claims not to have been told before leaving Sri Lanka he would have to do unpaid training for an unspecified period of time.
As he is now in dispute with the company, his Certificate of Sponsorship to work in the UK has been withdrawn.
Wiping away tears, he explains that the money was his family’s entire life savings – after they sold everything, including land and jewellery.
“£26,000 is a very big amount for us from Sri Lanka. My grandfather’s and grandmother’s jewellery and three generations earned that. Now I don’t have anything. It’s all gone. [The criminal gangs in Sri Lanka] have cheated me.
“How can I get that back?”
Reporting by Lisa Holland
Production by Nick Stylianou and Megan Baynes
Edited by Serena Kutchinsky
Eamonn Holmes claims there was ‘total cover-up’ over Phillip Schofield’s affair with younger man
Eamonn Holmes has claimed there was a “total cover-up” over Phillip Schofield’s affair with a younger male colleague on This Morning while he was married.
Holmes, 63, who also presented on the show, has accused Schofield of “toxicity” amid the furore over the culture on the ITV daytime programme.
Host Schofield, 61, admitted last Friday to an “unwise, but not illegal” affair with a younger male colleague on the show and has now quit the commercial broadcaster and been dropped by his talent agency YMU.
Schofield on Monday hit back at critics, saying on Instagram there was “no toxicity” on the programme, adding: “I hope you have noticed that it’s the same handful of people with a grudge against me or the show who seem to have the loudest voice.”
ITV said there had been an investigation in early 2020 when “rumours of a relationship between Phillip Schofield and an employee of ITV first began to circulate” but said it did not find “any evidence of a relationship beyond hearsay and rumour”.
A statement from the commercial broadcaster on 27 May said: “Both parties were questioned and both categorically and repeatedly denied the rumours as did Phillip’s then agency YMU.
“In addition, ITV spoke to a number of people who worked on This Morning and were not provided with, and did not find, any evidence of a relationship beyond hearsay and rumour… He lied to people at ITV, from senior management to fellow presenters, to YMU, to the media and to others over this relationship.”
But Holmes told GB News presenter Dan Wootton: “It’s a total cover-up.
“Those in authority had to know what was going on and they thought they would dodge a bullet with this.
“Which they do and they do constantly because with Schofield talking about those who speak out against him, namely me, Amanda Holden and you [Dan Wootton], you’ll be included in the toxicity that goes on… Dr Ranj [Singh] of course as well.
“And you simply sit there and think ‘no mate, you’ve had it all your way for too long’.”
A timeline of the This Morning controversy
ITV responds to rumours around show’s future
Why Schofield’s admission could kill off his career
Referring to Schofield’s comments on Instagram, Holmes said: “I think that Phillip is absolutely right about toxicity.
“But my friend, the toxicity is not with me, Dan Wootton, or anyone else, the toxicity is with you.”
Phillip Schofield and Eamonn Holmes social media statements in full
Just before 10am on Monday, Phillip Schofield posts a statement on his Instagram stories.
“Now I no longer work on @thismorning I am free to say this. I hope you have noticed that it’s the same handful of people with a grudge against me or the show who seem to have the loudest voice.
“This morning IS the best show to work on, with the best people. In all the years I worked there there was no toxicity. You can listen to those persistently loud voices if you like.
“But the thousands of guests over the years, thousands of staff and crew, hundreds of presenters and contributors all know, it IS a family of wonderful, talented, kind, hard working people.”
At 11.10am Eamonn Holmes tweets a response.
“Schofield has just put out a delusional statement. Like Holly he puts it on Insta Stories so if it goes wrong there is no record after 24 hrs.
“I’m reluctant to give the liar any more publicity but believe me Pip if u r looking for a fight , u have picked on the wrong person !”
Earlier in the day, Holmes on social media described Schofield as “delusional” and said he has “picked the wrong person… if you’re looking for a fight”.
ITV has been approached for comment by Sky News about Holmes’s claims.
GB News asked ITV’s managing director of media and entertainment, Kevin Lygo, if there was a “cover-up” and if he “protected” Schofield.
Mr Lygo told a GB News producer: “We really have no more to say.”
Holmes previously presented This Morning on Fridays with his wife Ruth Langsford.
The programme’s former resident doctor Dr Ranj Singh has hit out at the show’s “toxic” culture, saying he raised concerns about “bullying and discrimination” two years ago when he worked there and afterwards felt like he was “managed out” for whistleblowing.
Schofield quit This Morning on 20 May after more than 20 years.
Schofield originally said he was stepping down from the show because it had “become the story”, following reports of a feud between him and co-host Holly Willoughby.
It came after his brother was recently jailed for 12 years over child sex offences.
Willoughby, 41, is due to return next Monday (5 June), having gone on an early half-term holiday on 22 May.
She said that “when reports of this relationship first surfaced, I asked Phil directly if this was true and was told it was not”.
“It’s been very hurtful to now find out this was a lie,” an Instagram statement added.
Schofield has now completely resigned from ITV and been dropped by his agents.
In his statement to the Daily Mail he also admitted lying about his affair to his wife, to ITV, his agents and the media.
The controversy has raised doubts about both Willoughby’s and the show’s future, but the channel has denied reports it could be axed.
Vape advertising: Government to crack down on promotions ‘targeted at children’
Rishi Sunak has said a new government crackdown on vape marketing will stop the “unacceptable” targeting of children and young people.
Ministers have pledged to close a loophole that allows shops to offer free samples of vapes to children in England as concerns over the proportion of youngsters trying e-cigarettes mounts.
It comes days after the prime minister expressed concern about his own daughters potentially being targeted by vape marketing during an interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
There will also be a review into banning retailers selling “nicotine-free” vapes to under-18s, the government said, as well as a review of the rules on issuing fines to shops that illegally sell vapes to children.
The government said such reviews could make it easier for local trading standards officials to issue on-the-spot fines and fixed penalty notices.
Ministers cited NHS figures from 2021 which revealed 9% of 11 to 15-year-olds used e-cigarettes – up from 6% in 2018.
Mr Sunak said he was “deeply concerned” about the increase in children vaping, adding he was “shocked by reports of illicit vapes containing lead getting into the hands of schoolchildren”.
“Our new illicit vape enforcement squad – backed by £3m – is on the case but clearly there is more to do,” the prime minister said.
“That is why I am taking further action today to clamp down on rogue firms who unlawfully target our children with these products.”
He added that the marketing and the illegal sales of vapes to children are “completely unacceptable” and that he will do everything in his power to “end this practice for good”.
Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty called the decision to close the loophole a “very welcome step”.
He said: “Whilst vaping can be an effective quitting tool for smokers, it is important that non-smokers are not encouraged to start vaping.
“There has been a particularly worrying rise in the number of children using vapes, with companies clearly marketing these products at children using colours, flavours and cheap disposable options.
“Closing the loophole that allows companies to give out free samples of vaping products to under-18s is a very welcome step in tackling some of the harms caused by the vaping industry.”
He added: “We should continue to encourage smokers to swap to vaping as the lesser risk, whilst preventing the marketing and sale of vapes to children.”
Number of children trying vaping rises 50% in a year in ‘tide of experimentation’
Sunak hits out at vape companies for appealing to children
The health risks of vaping will now also be included in Relatonships, Sex and Health Education lessons in schools as part of the ongoing government review of the curriculum.
And the crackdown will also see dedicated police school liaison officers work to keep illegal vapes out of schools.
Health minister Neil O’Brien described any marketing of vaping products to children as “shameful”.
He said the government would “review the rules on issuing on-the-spot fines to shops that break the law by selling vapes to underage youngsters, and look into banning the sale of nicotine-free vapes to under-18s – which we know can be a gateway to using nicotine products”.
UK weather: Temperatures forecast to cool across parts of country after hottest day of the year so far
Sunday was officially the hottest day of 2023 so far – but temperatures are predicted to cool this week for some.
Plymouth hit 24.4C (75.9F) yesterday, beating Saturday’s high of 24.3C (75.7F) in Bramham, West Yorkshire, by just a tenth of a degree.
Previously the hottest temperature of the year was 23.4C (74.1F) – recorded in Cardiff last Monday.
High pressure meant dry and warm conditions across the UK last week, but forecasters expect a cooler feel from Monday night.
Find out the 5-day forecast where you are here
“Generally, there will be a lot of dry weather around and a good amount of sunshine still,” Met Office meteorologist Jonathan Vautrey said. “Hazy cloud pushing through at times might make the sunshine hazy in places.
“Temperatures then going to be feeling cooler along eastern coastal areas.”
Colder conditions in the far north and the east will be brought on by a “cool breeze off the North Sea”, the Met Office added.
Southern and eastern parts will also be cloudy.
This spring has been cooler than usual in general so far, with temperatures not yet reaching 25C (77F) anywhere in the country.
If the UK doesn’t meet that threshold in the coming days, it will be the first time in 10 years without a day of 25C or hotter by 1 June.
Athlete dies while swimming in Swansea Triathlon
What is El Nino and how does it impact the weather?
Warmer weather in the west
For the rest of this week, half-term for much of England and Wales, the best weather will be confined to western areas.
The Met Office says the high pressure that sent the mercury soaring last week will “stay in charge” in those parts.
Temperatures are likely to peak on Wednesday – and could reach 25C across western Scotland and Wales.
Conditions will be dry and settled, but feel cooler at night. Pollen counts will also be high.
South West England and Wales are set to have the highest temperatures for the remainder of the bank holiday.
Two men died having been pulled from the sea near Torbay in Devon during the hot weather on Saturday, with emergency services warning people against swimming in non-guarded areas.
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