Shortly before Christmas, the Government was issued with a firm instruction: make Care Workers eligible for sponsorship immediately. Not much room for confusion there.
The instruction came from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in its annual report, which made for grim festive reading in its assessment of staff shortages in the UK care sector.
And the MAC went further. It also directed the Government to:
recognise the job role ‘Care Worker’ as a Shortage Occupation; and
make Care Workers eligible for the Health and Care Worker Visa.
As a Christmas wish-list, all this must have seemed pretty unpalatable to the Home Office.
After all, the Government’s master plan was that, once free movement of EU workers came to end, all those idle British workers would spring into action and fill Care Worker roles – at least those that had not already jumped at the chance to take one of the thousands of vacant HGV driver jobs.
And yet, on Christmas Eve, the Government did its best impression of Santa, and delivered on the MAC’s Christmas wish-list.
But many in the sector will think it’s all a bit late, when staff shortages in care have already become so paralysing that the MAC was forced to issue its ominous Christmas demands in the first place.
Read on for some background, what we expect to happen next, and the Truth Legal view.
Background to care worker sponsorship
At Truth Legal, we have long believed that one answer to staff shortages in the UK’s care sector is immigration policy, although it’s certainly not the only answer.
Under the current immigration system, regular Care Workers are not eligible for sponsorship, but Senior Care Workers are. So until now, employers have been locked out of overseas recruitment for non-Senior Care Workers, where staffing pressures are just as intense and immediate.
This distinction exists because, in the Government’s estimation, regular Care Workers are deemed not skilled enough to be capable of sponsorship. Like many, we have strongly disagreed with that skill classification.
What happens now?
The Christmas Eve announcement suggests that, sometime in the next few weeks, Care Workers will be made eligible for sponsorship. This will allow employers to recruit both Care Workers and Senior Care Workers from overseas.
Care Workers should also now be added to the Shortage Occupation List. This means that employers will benefit from a lower minimum salary requirement when sponsoring Care Workers – £20,480 instead of the usual £25,600 applicable to non-Shortage Occupations. This will bring the pay requirements in line with those which apply to Senior Care Workers.
Finally, Care Workers will, like Senior Care Workers, be eligible for the Health and Care Worker Visa. This will allow them to benefit from lower visa fees, faster decisions, and an exemption from the pricey Immigration Health Surcharge.
All of this is temporary, and the Government has committed itself only to a review of the policy in 12 months’ time. Further, applying for a licence and putting in the necessary HR systems to stay on the right side of the Home Office can be expensive and time-consuming. Many care providers will wonder whether this brief reprieve is worth the hassle.
The Truth Legal view
The MAC’s December instructions wedged the Government firmly between a rock and a hard place. The Government has conceded on this occasion, but reluctantly.
On the rare occasions the Government makes positive noises about immigration, it’s normally around promoting “highly skilled” migration and building the UK’s own domestic workforce.
Indeed, Sajid Javid even used the very moment of backing down on the sponsorship of Care Workers to talk about “short-term sustainability” and the “long-term vision to build social care back better”.
If this Government wants to “build back better” in social care, it should start by making Care Workers permanently eligible for sponsorship, as a Shortage Occupation, with access to the Health and Care Worker Visa.
The Government should then meaningfully address the chronic underfunding which has plagued the sector for the last eleven years of consecutive Conservative governments.
After all, a properly funded, well-staffed, and smoothly functioning care sector should be for life, and not just for Christmas.
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