Following on from the Migration Advisory Committee's annual report, the government have announced welcome changes to the Health and Care visa route.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published their annual report in December. The report considered a variety of subjects and took a detailed look at the health and care sector. The nationwide staffing crisis in this sector has been well publicised in the media, particularly through the pandemic which has only exacerbated the pressures on industry and put additional strain on health and care service providers.
The MAC praised the current Points Based System (PBS), however pointed out that it has not gone far enough to address the staffing shortages in the care sector. When the PBS was revamped in late 2020, the required skill level for a job to be eligible for sponsorship was reduced from RQF Level 6 (degree level) to RQF Level 3 (A-Level). This opened the door for health and care sector employers to recruit senior care workers from overseas and the statistics show that this avenue has been made use of: less than 10 percent of all Skilled Worker applications are for jobs at RQF levels 3 to 5 and one third of these applications are for senior care workers. However, other care positions were excluded and this is reflected in the high vacancy levels in the sector which had an 11.2% vacancy rate in October 2021 and a notoriously high staff turnover rate. It is expected that the number of vacancies will only rise with the introduction of the vaccine mandate. In recognition of this, the MAC recommended that care worker jobs were immediately made eligible for health and care worker visas and placed on the shortage occupation list. The government have taken these recommendations on board and announced that carers will be made eligible for the health and care visa and added to the Shortage Occupation List. This means that the required annual salary will be £20,480 (based on a 39-hour working week), that visa costs will be reduced and applicants and their eligible family members can make use of fast-track application processing.
Employers in this area who have vacancies in any roles which fall into SOC Code 6145, including care assistant, care worker, carer, home carer and support worker (nursing home), which they have not been able to fill from the resident labour market and do not have a sponsor licence, should look to apply for one as soon as possible. The process to obtain a sponsor licence can take a minimum of eight weeks so acting now will ensure that you are able to push forward with recruitment and fill these vacancies at the earliest opportunity.
This is undoubtedly a welcome announcement and will provide some relief to employers who have been struggling to keep up with the increased demands caused by the pandemic. It has been announced as a temporary measure and is to be in effect for a minimum of twelve months. The MAC are currently undertaking a detailed review into the impact of the end of free movement on the social care sector, with the findings to be published in April 2022. It may be that this temporary measure is made more permanent, based on the outcome of that review - or indeed that other avenues are opened to alleviate the pressures on the sector so that it can continue to deliver these vital services to those who need them.