Care home staff will be excluded from the government’s post-Brexit fast-track visa system for health workers, the government has confirmed.
Details of the immigration system, which comes into force in the new year, outlined in a 130-page Home Office paper, shows there will be, in effect, no route into the UK for the vast majority of overseas care staff despite repeated warnings from the sector of shortages and concerns about the impact of coronavirus.
Home Office officials expect an increase in UK nationals joining the care sector amid rising unemployment in other sectors, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amid widespread appreciation and praise for health and care staff during the pandemic, the government has come up with fast-track entry under a “health and care visa” with reduced application fees and dedicated support to assist those applying and their families.
But despite the name, the list of professions that can use the visa, in an appendix of the document, does not cover care staff.
Downing Street confirmed this was the case. “We want employers to invest more in training and development for care workers in this country,” Boris Johnson’s spokesman said.
“On care workers specifically, our independent migration advisers have said immigration is not the sole answer here, which is why we have provided councils with an additional £1.5bn of funding for social care in 2021-22, as well as launching a new recruitment campaign.”
Labour condemned the decision. Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said it was “a clear signal that this government does not appreciate the skill and dedication these roles involve”.
He added: “Anyone reading the government paper on immigration today will be asking themselves what ministers have against care workers.”
Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokeswoman, said the decision was “utterly outrageous”, adding: “Priti Patel might consider social care workers to be unskilled, but the coronavirus pandemic reminds us they are anything but.”
While a few very senior care roles in the NHS could allow arrivals to qualify for the visa, the minimum threshold is what is known as regulated qualifications framework (RFQ) three or above, roughly equivalent to A-levels.
The Home Office classes most care staff as being at RFQ one, equivalent to lower-graded GCSE passes. New overseas nationals will still be able to work in care but only if they are dependants of someone else, or have another type of visa, for example a student visa.
Much of the rest of the Home Office document sets out in more detail previously announced elements of the new immigration regime, which will close UK borders to lower-paid workers or those who cannot speak English after the country leaves the EU. Read more