The Government has been condemned for excluding social care workers from its new immigration rules, with the move described as an “embarrassing shambles”.
It was announced on Monday that a health and care visa will provide a visa route for key health professionals to work in the UK, but this will exclude social care workers.
Charities and community groups fear the new points-based immigration system, designed to cut the number of low-skilled migrants entering Britain from January 2021, will also exclude lowly-paid NHS cleaners, porters and support staff.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he had serious concerns that the new rules could damage the capital’s economic recovery, causing difficulties for sectors including social care.
“Undermining these sectors will make it even harder to look after our elderly relatives and resolve the ongoing pressures within our NHS and social care system,” he said.
“Instead of recognising the hugely positive impact that immigration has had on London and the UK’s economy and communities, the Government is pulling up the drawbridge to much of the talent we continue to need as a city and a country.”
Immigration experts at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said although the health and care visa could make it easier and cheaper for skilled health and care workers to take up jobs in the UK, “critically, only a relatively narrow range of skilled professionals are actually eligible, and it does not cover a very large share of care workers”.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair said the NHS and social care should not be viewed as separate services.
She said: “Once again, we are disappointed to see the Government’s plans for the UK’s future immigration system falling short of what is required to meet the workforce needs of the health and social care sectors, now and in the future.
“The Government is ignoring our concern that we need an appropriate immigration route for social care workers. Arbitrary salary thresholds will prevent key workers from working in the UK, which will directly impact patient care.”
Chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) Satbir Singh said: “The very same people who’ve risked their lives to keep our country going would have no safe route of entry to the UK.
“We’ve gone from clapping for our key workers to calling them low-skilled in a few short weeks.”
Responding to the new rules, trade union Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The sector is desperately short of staff and heavily reliant on the skills of overseas workers. Recruitment will now become even harder.”
Rehana Azam, national secretary of trade union GMB, said: “The Government’s new immigration rules are descending into an embarrassing shambles and make no consideration or acknowledgement of the vital job care workers have been doing these past few months.”
She said care homes relied on hundreds of thousands of workers from outside Europe, adding: “Demand on health and social care is increasing every day and the pandemic has shown just how vital these workers are, yet the Government seems intent on branding them as low-skilled and exacerbating the crisis by creating new barriers.”
Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum, said there are highly skilled workers in the care sector whose salaries do not fit the Government’s new system.
She added: “It is not right that the Government has brought forward a points-based system that does not recognise the skills of those workers, and indeed the huge commitment and contribution of staff from around the world who are today involved in the delivery of care to millions of UK citizens.
“We need to ensure that those workers continue to feel welcome, and to be able to bring their skills and expertise.”
Her sentiments were shared by Mark Adams, chief executive of Community Integrated Care, who reported a current shortage of 122,000 workers in social care in the UK.
He said: “The Government’s decision to restrict access to visa entitlements based on salary and educational attainment compounds the enormous workforce shortages that currently exist and may worsen after Brexit.
“However, clearly the biggest opportunity to build the workforce capacity that the care sector desperately needs is by recruiting from within this country – this simply will not be possible so long as social care remains, largely, a minimum wage sector due to the restricted funding that care providers receive.”
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “The Government’s decision not to include social care workers in the NHS visa scheme is another example of the way in which the Government treats social care staff as second class citizens.
“There will be a continuing need for overseas staff, until the Government delivers a proper workforce strategy for social care and also the money required to give the staff the salaries and conditions they richly deserve.”
People who want to live and work in the UK will need to gain 70 points to be eligible to apply for a visa.
Points will be awarded for key requirements such as being able to speak English to a certain level, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a minimum salary threshold.
On care workers, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Our independent migration advisers have said that immigration is not the sole answer here, which is why we have provided councils with an additional £1.5 billion of funding for social care in 2021/22, as well as launching a new recruitment campaign.”
Existing European Union workers in the care sector could apply to stay in the UK through the settlement scheme “and a very large number have done so”, the spokesman said.