Immigration experts A Y & J Solicitors have pinpointed a simple change to UK visa rules which will alleviate a healthcare manpower shortage that threatens to hamper the UK’s covid-19 reaction.
According to reports migrant healthcare workers are having to return to their countries of origin after their visas expire, potentially hampering Britain’s response to the coronavirus. Trade unions and charities have called on the government to stop forcing out key workers in the health and care sectors and to stop barring potential new ones from coming to work here.
However, Yash Dubal, Director of A Y & J Solicitors, explains that Home Office provision already offers free visa extension for healthcare workers and that the new Heath and Care Visa (Tier 2) offers reduced fees and no immigration health surcharge for qualified applicants and their families.
The real issue, he says, is the skills level at which the visa threshold is set. In order to work in the UK, migrants must be a qualified doctor, nurse, health professional or adult social care professional. Many of the unfilled vacancies in the health and care sector are for roles classified as low skilled, which means they do not meet the requirements of the Health and Care Visa and so cannot be filled by overseas workers.
Mr Dubal says the best way to ensure there are enough workers to fill these key worker posts is to reclassify the professions as skilled roles. By doing this they can then be added to the Home Office list of shortage occupations and foreign workers could then be sponsored at the lower salary threshold, making it affordable for the NHS and private care firms to recruit overseas labour.
Mr Dubal explains: “There is a need for low-skilled health care staff such as carers but there currently does not seem to be enough domestic candidates to fill the available roles. The solution would be for the Home office to reclassify care workers and home carers up from the lower-skilled classification they currently hold to RQF Level 3. They could then be added to the Shortage Occupation List and foreign workers could be sponsored at a lower salary of £20,480, rather than the minimum £25,600 needed under the new points-based system. This would then become affordable for the care industry which could remain competitive and continue providing care for those who need it the most and who get little government support.”
New figures released by the Nursing and Midwifery Council show that although 8,000 nursing staff have joined the health service in the past six months there are still 40,000 vacancies in England. Only half of the new nurses are qualified to carry out full nursing duties. According to the Kings Fund, at least 5,000 nurses a year need to be recruited in the short term to deal with immediate shortfalls.
When care sector shortfalls are added, the shortages are acute. Unison says that across both health and care sectors there are 122,000 vacancies. The trade union reports that along with key workers forced to return to their home countries, many who are still in the UK are struggling to renew their visas due to delays and prohibitive costs and have become overstayers as a result, something which can further hamper their ability to renew their visas.
Mr Dubal says if this is the case, the Government needs to review visa costs for key workers further.
“If the country is short of key health and care workers and those already working here are struggling because of the fees they have to pay it would be common sense to reduce those fees and enable the workers we do have to stay. Particularly when we are in the grip of a second wave of Coronavirus and in need of key workers.”