Social care workers do not qualify for the new health and care visa under the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system, the Government announced yesterday.
Overseas health professionals, including nurses who come to work in the UK, will be eligible for reduced fees and fast-tracked entry into the country with the visa, as previously pledged. This forms part of the new points-based immigration system set to come into force on 1 January 2021.
While some senior care workers, such as team leaders, are in the list of jobs able to apply for the new health visa most social care workers will not qualify – prompting unions to warn that existing recruitment problems will worsen in the sector.
Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said the ‘disastrous mistake’ will ‘make existing problems spiral’, adding that social care needs ‘an urgent overhaul’.
She continued: ‘The sector is desperately short of staff and heavily reliant on the skills of overseas workers. Recruitment will now become even harder.’
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘The Government is ignoring our concern that we need an appropriate immigration route for social care workers.’
The health and social care visa will form part of the ‘skilled worker route’ for applicants in certain occupations in health and social care, such as nurses and midwives, stated a policy document.
It will offer faster entry, reduced application fees and dedicated support regarding the application process, and exempt holders from paying the controversial immigration health surcharge.
Healthcare staff not eligible for the visa will pay the surcharge but ‘benefit from a reimbursement scheme’, the document said.
It added that the Government is working on exempting all frontline NHS and social care workers from paying the surcharge, as promised.
Under the new immigration system, people generally must earn 70 points to gain a visa to work in the UK. There is a minimum salary requirement of £20,480.
Having a job offer in a skilled field and being able to speak a good level of English will earn the applicant 50 points.
Applicants can gain an extra 20 points by earning £25,600 or more, holding a relevant PhD or working in a named ‘shortage occupation’ such as nursing.
However, the minimum salary threshold means many care workers and NHS porters, cleaners and other support staff will not qualify.
The most recent Office for National figures suggested there were an estimated 110,000 vacancies in adult social care – a vacancy rate of 8%.
Dame Donna continued: ‘The pandemic has revealed how reliant the NHS is on good social care and vice versa – they cannot be viewed as separate services.
‘The care system has been heavily reliant on international staff, and the proposals continue to ignore the significant risk to this sector, and therefore the entire health and care system across the UK.’