Social care workers will access fast-track visas for a year, government says

The change follows recent warnings that the social care sector is facing ‘severe and increasing difficulties’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 24 December 2021 18:41
Comments
<p>Health secretary Sajid Javid visiting St George’s hospital in London.  </p>

Health secretary Sajid Javid visiting St George’s hospital in London.

Health secretary Sajid Javid has announced social care workers will be given access to fast-track visas as the government added the sector to the shortage occupation list in an effort to fill “vital gaps”.

The relaxation of immigration rules for the sector for a 12-month period comes after government advisers warned it was facing “severe and increasing difficulties” over staff shortages.

In its annual report published last week, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which briefs the government on immigration, advised immigration rules on care worker jobs should be relaxed “immediately”.

The recommendation was sparked by preliminary findings from an independent review by the MAC on the effect the end of freedom of movement after Brexit is having on both the adult social care sector and its workers.

Earlier this year, the government also announced it would be mandatory for social care workers to receive two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine despite warnings this could result in many leaving the sector.

The MAC said the occupation should be on the government’s shortage occupation list, which details sectors where employers “face a shortage of suitable labour and where it is sensible to fill those shortages with migrant workers”.

The advisers added that “Given the severe and increasing difficulties the sector is facing in terms of both recruitment and retention, we are recommending that care worker jobs immediately be made eligible for the health and care visa.”

The committee said that while it did not believe immigration policy could solve all – or even most – of the sector’s workforce problems, it could “potentially help to alleviate the difficulties” in the short term.

Announcing the change on Christmas Eve, the Department of Health and Social Care said the sector will now be placed on the shortage occupation list. It will stipulate an annual salary minimum of £20,480 in order for carers to qualify.

The department added the change will allow “applicants and their dependents to benefit from fast-track processing, dedicated resources in processing applications and reduced visa fees” for a temporary period of 12 months.

Mr Javid said: “It is vital we continue to do all we can to protect the social care sector during the pandemic and beyond.

“These measures, together with the series of support packages announced since September, will help us ensure short-term sustainability and success for our long-term vision to build social care back better.”

The home secretary, Priti Patel, added: “The care sector is experiencing unprecedented challenges prompted by the pandemic, and the changes we’ve made to the health and care visa will bolster the workforce and help alleviate some of the pressures currently being experienced.”

Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat health and social care spokesperson, said: “This measure is too little, too late for everyone who has had their visits to a loved one in a care home cancelled this Christmas. Staff shortages in care homes have been at crisis point for months.

“When Boris Johnson delivered Brexit he pulled the rug from under the care sector’s workforce. Now, the paltry offer of a one-year visa will likely fail to attract the numbers of care workers we so desperately need.

“We cannot afford another humiliating and damaging repeat of when a pitiful 27 EU lorry drivers applied for HGV visas in response to the driver shortage. The government needs to think again and offer three-year visas to carers with immediate effect.”

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