Immigration rules are to be relaxed in the hope of attracting thousands of additional care workers into the UK from abroad, the government announced on 24 December.
Figures earlier in December from the Nuffield Trust showed that 40,000 care workers, home care workers and care assistants had left the sector in the past six months.
The roles will now be added to the Home Office’s shortage occupation list, following recommendations by the Migration Advisory Committee which in mid-December acknowledged major recruitment and retention difficulties in the care sector.
Care workers from abroad will have to apply for a 12-month health and care visa and have been offered a salary of at least £20,480 to qualify. They will be able to bring dependants, including a partner and children, with the measures expected to come into effect early next year.
Health providers had been predicting worsening staff shortages as the deadline for all care workers to be fully vaccinated by 11 November approached.
Home secretary Priti Patel said the sector was “experiencing unprecedented challenges prompted by the pandemic”, adding: “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.”
But Labour’s Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, said the timing of the announcement was a sign of the government’s weakness over the issue: “Sneaking this announcement out on Christmas Eve is an admission of failure from the Conservative government that they don’t pay carers enough to recruit or retain the staff we need, and have failed to tackle this building problem for years. Labour will ensure care workers get the pay, terms and conditions they deserve, tackle high vacancy rates, and transform training to improve the quality of care.”
The Liberal Democrats said the new visa would be unlikely to remedy the issues faced by the care sector. Daisy Cooper, the party’s health and social care spokesperson, said: “The paltry offer of a one-year visa will likely fail to attract the numbers of care workers we so desperately need. The government needs to think again and offer three-year visas to carers with immediate effect.”
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