Care home staff have been virtually excluded from the new post-Brexit, fast-track visa for health and social care workers, as the Government insisted British workers could make up the shortfall.
Government officials admitted the vast majority of care staff - many from Eastern Europe - will fall short in the new points-based immigration system that will only allow in migrants from January 1 next year if they have skilled job offers, speak English and meet minimum salary thresholds.
The visa, which has cut-price fees and exempts workers from the immigration health surcharge, was trailed at the weekend as being targeted at “health and care” workers. It raised hopes in the social care sector which claims it faces shortages of 122,000 staff.
But, despite the visa’s name, the list of professions who can use it, in an appendix of the 130-page Government policy document, does not cover care staff. They are only referred to in the lists of skilled workers but then as higher-grade care “managers” or “owners.”
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We want employers to invest more in training and development for care workers in this country.
"On care workers specifically, 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."
The move provoked anger in the industry. Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, the biggest body for UK social care services, said he was “irritated” at the treatment of a social care workforce who had “proved themselves” in the midst of a pandemic.
He said it demonstrated that Government claims to be integrating health and social care were hollow and would leave the sector facing chronic shortages.
“Social care workers are being treated as second class citizens. There is a mismatch between rhetoric and reality. The Government needs to close the gap,” said Professor Green.
It also sparked a political row. Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow home secretary, said it was “yet another insult from this Tory party to those who have been at the frontline of this crisis.”
However, a Tory source said: “Petty and pathetic for the Labour party to use care workers as a political cover as they try and keep mass unskilled unlimited immigration into this country – despite the repeated votes of the British people.”
The points system:
The points-based immigration system - a centrepiece of Mr Johnson’s election manifesto - aims to end businesses’ reliance on cheap low-skilled migrants and instead force them to recruit more British workers from an anticipated pool of unemployed likely after the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the ending of free movement, skilled EU and non-EU migrants will be treated the same and have to earn 70 points to work in the UK.
To get the first 50, they need to have a job offer from an approved employer, speak English and have a job at the appropriate skill level (A-level or above).
They must obtain a further 20 “tradeable” points through a combination of points for their salary, a job in a shortage occupation or a PhD relevant to their work.
They can get 20 points if their salary is above a threshold of £25,600 or the “going rate” for their job. Applicants can drop below that and still trade for points if, for example, they are a new entrant or under 26, but no-one can be paid less than £20,480, £4,000 more than the average in the care sector.
The document confirms that foreign criminals, from both the EU and rest of the world, who have been jailed for more than a year could be banned from coming to Britain or deported under the new rules, as revealed in Monday’s Telegraph.
Border Force and immigration officials will also be able to bar foreign migrants found guilty of serious harm even if they have been sentenced to less than a year in jail as well as persistent offenders such as prolific thieves, burglars and pickpockets.
There is also a catch-all where “the 12-month criminality deportation threshold is not met, a foreign criminal will still be considered for deportation where it is conducive to the public good, including where they have serious or persistent criminality.”
Foreign students coming to the UK will be expected to speak to A-level or equivalent standard,while skilled workers will have to be up to AS-level standards, which means being able to hold a conversation, explain plans and understand instructions.
They will be expected to pass a test or have an academic degree taught in English or be a national of a majority English speaking country.
Employers’ £1,000 fees:
Employers who sponsor migrant workers must pay £1,000 per skilled worker for the first year with an additional £500 charge for each subsequent six-month period. Charities and small and medium-sized businesses have discounted rates of £364.
The money raised through the levy will pay for training up British workers but is expected to be reviewed in 2020 depending on migrant numbers.
Exemptions for highly-skilled workers:
A special “highly-skilled” worker group is to be created at some point next year for “small numbers” who would not need a job offer before being allowed into the UK.
It supplements the “global talent” route where “global leaders and the leaders of tomorrow in science, humanities, engineering, the arts” can get visas without job offers but must have the approval of a recognised UK body like a royal academy or arts council.
There will be no limit on the number of international students to approved universities or colleges, while foreign graduates at UK universities will be allowed to stay in the UK for two years, rising to three years for PHD graduates.