On the 24 January 2022 a statement of changes to the immigration rules was published, confirming that Care Workers will be added to the UK’s “Shortage Occupation” list. Care Workers will therefore become eligible to apply for Skilled Worker visas, under the new Points Based Immigration System. They will remain eligible for this route, initially for a 12-month period only.
This blog looks at the background to the changes, in context of the current struggles faced by the care industry to recruit Care Workers. We will explore how the changes may help care businesses to fill skills shortages through immigration and will cover the detail of how to make a visa application for a Care Worker.
Brexit and the departure from the EU (end of free movement) will have played a big part in the difficulties the social care industry faces recruiting staff from overseas. EU nationals now need visas to come and work in the UK.
On 24 December 2021, the UK Government finally responded to the care industry’s repeat calls for support to help them fill labour shortages for Care Workers in the UK.
The Government’s announcement bore the extravagant headline: “Biggest visa boost for social care as Health and Care Visa scheme expanded”.
The announcement made clear that the motivation for making this change is to help combat the great pressures on the care industry, highlighted by the Coronavirus pandemic.
You can read the full announcement here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biggest-visa-boost-for-social-care-as-health-and-care-visa-scheme-expanded
Being unable to recruit the right staff from overseas has impacted care businesses in many ways. As immigration advisers, our care industry clients tell us of their frustrations in having to pass up important service contracts (e.g. local council contracts for the provision of care services) due to having a lack of resources.
Existing staff struggle to fulfil all the functions required and businesses are unable to grow, develop and thrive.
Businesses that operate in Social Care in England and Wales are closely regulated (by the Care Quality Commission in England; and in Wales, by the Care Inspectorate Wales).
Domiciliary care agencies (who employ care workers directly) and Care Homes, help a large number people who need care and support, from the elderly, to those with learning disabilities and physical disabilities.
With an ever-aging population, the human need for social care and social care workers is increasing in the UK, and the pandemic has made the crisis more acute.
Care Homes and home care agencies have to tailor their services to meet their clients’ changing needs, while ensuring the highest level of care. These services can only be delivered by staff with the necessary skills.
Staff shortages limit the range and extent of care that can be provided, so fewer people are reached, and clients have fewer options to choose from in terms of service providers.
By adding Care Workers to the UK’s Shortage Occupation list, people who have a job offer from a UK licenced sponsor can be sponsored to work in the UK under the Skilled Worker route.
The Shortage Occupation List is a list of roles for which there is a significant skills shortage in the UK. The Migrant Advisory Committee (MAC) recommend roles to be added to the list, but the government decide which roles can be classified as “shortage occupation list” roles.
All roles have a unique 4-digit classification as published by the Office of National Statistics. Care Workers fall under Standard Occupational Code (SOC) 6145.
This code is considered to be below RQF level 3.
In adding Care Workers to the shortage occupation list, the Home Office have not re-classified the skill level of the role – the role is still below RQF level 3. However, as a shortage occupation list role, the job qualifies for sponsorship despite being below RQF level 3.
You might be aware that Senior Carers (SOC 6146) could be sponsored under the Skilled Worker route, as the role is classified as being RQF level 3. However, Senior Carers typically carry out supervisory duties and will be extensively experienced.
While senior care staff could always be recruited under the Skilled Worker regime, junior roles could not be filled under the system.
The government have confirmed that Care Workers will qualify to apply under the Health and Care route.
The subcategory of Skilled Worker visa, called the Health and Care Visa allows eligible applicants to apply with an exemption from paying the Immigration Health Surcharge, and they also benefit from lower visa application fees.
An up to 3 year visa costs £232 per person
An up to 5 year visa costs £464 per person
The sponsor is responsible for paying fees associated with the Certificate of Sponsorship:-
The Certificate of Sponsorship costs £199
The Immigration Skills charge (payable up-front) £364 per year for small sponsors (£1,000 per year for large sponsors).
The application process is exactly the same as for other skilled worker application.
Applications will be accepted from 15 February 2022.
If you try and apply for a defined Certificate of Sponsorship / skilled worker visa for a Care Worker, before the changes comes into force, your application will not be considered under the new rules and will likely be refused.
Care Workers will be eligible to apply for a skilled worker visa for a 12-month period. This does not mean their visa will be granted for 1 year, just that a Care Worker may not be eligible to make an initial application next year, if the rules are changed.
The rules will be reviewed and the government will decide whether or not to keep Care Workers on the Shortage Occupation List beyond February 2023.
Given the temporary nature of the change, this can be considered a “pilot” scheme, to test the feasibility of including Care Workers in the list of eligible roles for sponsorship.
The following roles fall under the classification of Care Worker. This list is not exhaustive, but gives a good indication of which jobs qualify:-
Note that this route does not allow private individuals to sponsor domestic Care Workers.
In establishing whether the general threshold is met, only the first 48 hours will be taken into consideration.
For example, someone with a job offer of £22,000 for 40 hours per week will be considered to have a salary of £22,000 and would meet the requirements.
In contrast, someone with a job offer of £22,000 for 60 hours per week will be considered to have a salary of £17,600 and therefore would not meet the requirements.
The visa can be issued for any period up to 5 years at a time. Skilled Worker visas can be extended without any limit.
The Skilled Worker visa is a route to settlement, so, provided they meet the requirements, the candidate should be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after 5 years continuous residence under the Skilled Worker route.
Skilled Workers can sponsor dependants, which include spouses, unmarried partners and children aged under 18 years old. Dependants can also benefit from the fee discounts available to the main applicant under the Health and Care route.
You can make an application from outside the UK (known as entry clearance) or from inside the UK to “switch” or “extend” your visa from most visa routes.
You cannot apply to “switch” if you are in the UK as a visitor.
If you are already being sponsored by a company, you can make a Skilled Worker application and apply to change employment/employer to work as a Care Worker from inside the UK.
In order to qualify for a sponsor licence, the business must be a genuine trading business in the UK. Applications take 8 weeks to be decided (there is a very limited availability priority service).
Once your employer has obtained their sponsor licence, they can assign a “Certificate of Sponsorship” which will enable you to make a visa application online. You will then need to enrol biometric data (usually at an appointment) and upload scanned copies of your supporting documents.
Visa applications under the Health and Care route should take 3 weeks to be processed from inside or outside the UK, however this service standard is not guaranteed. Priority services may also be available, where you can pay extra to get a decision within 5 working days or 24 hours of your visa appointment.
Your sponsor can “certify maintenance” on your certificate of sponsorship; otherwise you may need to submit bank statements showing you have the correct level of funds in your account. If you have lived in the UK for a continuous 12 month period prior to your visa application, you do not need to provide bank statements.
Care Homes and Domiciliary care agencies alike, have been struggling to recruit staff to work in care positions. The shortage has been made more severe following the UK’s departure from the EU and further exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
Under the new post-Brexit immigration system, there is no route for so-called “low skilled” immigration, but the recent government changes will (for an initial trial period, and possibly longer) allow Care Workers to apply for visas to work in the UK.
The Government anticipates that “thousands” of Care Workers may be recruited through the Skilled Worker route.
If true, this will hopefully alleviate the shortage of UK Care Workers, and help more business to deliver care services to clients and the communities they serve.
At A Y & J Solicitors, we keep you informed of changes that matter to you and your business. If you are an employer and need assistance with workforce planning or if you are an individual with questions about applying for a Care Worker visa in the UK, contact us for tailored support and guidance.