Care workers should be added to the shortage occupation list, which would improve the sector’s ability to fill staffing gaps and access workers from overseas, the Migration Advisory Committee has recommended.
In its annual report for 2021, the government’s independent advisor on immigration issues says that care worker jobs should “immediately” be made eligible for the Health and Care Visa and placed on the shortage occupation list because of the “severe and increasing difficulties the sector is facing in terms of both recruitment and retention”.
The report says: “In the last few months, the government have agreed to some temporary visas for various occupations such as HGV drivers, poultry workers and butchers.
“The MAC believe there is a balancing act between maintaining the general principles of the new skilled worker route and not being completely inflexible in the face of challenges that may have substantial consequences for the economy – some of which are the result of the pandemic.”
The government has faced repeated calls to help improve the care sector’s ability to recruit, particularly after it introduced a requirement for anyone who works in a care home to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
It is thought that around 50,000 care home staff were not allowed to continue in their roles when the vaccine mandate came in on 11 November.
The shortage occupation list details jobs which are subject to more favourable immigration requirements, including a lower salary threshold of £20,480, or 80% of the going rate, whichever is higher. This enables employers to access a wider pool of talent.
The MAC recommends which occupations should be added to the list, but ministers have the final say.
Fifty-four per cent of visa applications in the first nine months of 2021 were for jobs on the shortage occupation list, according to the report. This is an increase from 2020 (43%) and 2019 (17%).
“This figure may suggest a significant effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, since SOL visa applications increased substantially before the new immigration system was in place,” the report says.
“With travel restrictions in place and significant uncertainty in the economy some employers may have chosen to pause recruitment from abroad, whereas those recruiting for occupations on the SOL may have continued as they are in ‘shortage’.
“It might also be reflective of the larger list of occupations now listed on the SOL. It will be interesting to monitor this trend to see if it continues in future years, to determine whether this is an effect of the pandemic or not, given the rise in healthcare occupations seen.”