Up to 32,000 asylum seekers who have been waiting more than 12 months are eligible for jobs as care workers after they were added to the Government’s shortage occupation list. They are only permitted to work if they are in a shortage profession and have spent more than a year waiting.
Industry chiefs and government advisers said the asylum seekers could play a vital part in plugging gaps in the hard-pressed care sector where there are an estimated 140,000 vacancies, accounting for 10 per cent of the workforce.
Although the Government’s rule change is ostensibly designed to enable the sector to recruit foreign workers, many of the vacant care jobs are not eligible for the necessary visas because they fall below the minimum salary allowed of £20,480.
Asylum seekers do not require visas as they are already in the UK and, unlike other shortage occupations like butchers, welders and laboratory technicians, care workers do not require specialist training.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said it could have a major impact as social care facilities are under “huge pressure” with historic shortages of staff made worse by workers off sick with omicron or quarantining.
“We are in a space where we would welcome any opportunities to find new talent for social care. We have a real staff crisis,” he said.
The relaxation of visa rules for foreign workers was helpful but many would have to be paid more for the same job than staff in post for as long as five years, he added. “That’s going to cause major problems. I don’t think the Government has understood the level of funding,” he said.
Using asylum seekers to tackle labour shortages has been urged by the Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which recommended ministers should go further and allow them to enter the jobs market after six months, rather than 12 months.
The MAC said it not only had an economic benefit but there was also evidence it had a “large positive impact” on asylum seekers’ long-term job prospects, if their applications were successful, and helped them integrate better into British society.
‘Surrendering to immigration’
Last September, Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, said he would be “open-minded” about allowing asylum seekers to do jobs which helps tackle the UK’s labour shortages.
Rob McNeil, deputy director of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, said that until now the shortage occupation list was “close to meaningless” for asylum seekers as it focused on specific qualifications such as graphics programmers or technicians for nuclear power stations.
“Care work is a different proposition because although it is difficult work, it requires little specialist training, so it is accessible for more people,” he said. “It’s not possible to say at this stage how many people might take up this option, but it’s certainly possible that, at least for some asylum seekers who have waited without a decision for over a year, this development will widen the options for work.”
Tom Pursglove, an immigration minister, said: “The changes announced in regards to the care sector are a temporary measure to help the sector respond to unprecedented challenges brought on by the pandemic. Eligible asylum seekers must apply to the Home Office for permission to work in an occupation with shortages.”
Ben Greening, executive director of Migration Watch, said: “Instead of surrendering yet again to the immigration lobby, the Government should have ensured higher pay and better terms for care workers. It should have made these jobs more attractive, including for UK jobseekers. Instead, it has thrown this opportunity away.”