Care workers, care assistants and homecare workers are set to become eligible for Health and Care Visas for a 12-month period. Angela Barnes, Legal Director, Employment Department at Napthens LLP explains what this means for the sector.
In amongst the Christmas festivities, you would be forgiven for failing to notice that the Government announced its intention to temporarily extend the current Health and Care Worker Scheme (which allows non-UK medical workers to work in the UK) to the care sector, paving the way for care organisations to recruit much needed care staff into its workforce in the wake of Brexit and COVID-19.
A Health and Care Worker visa allows medical professionals to come and work in the UK in an eligible job with the NHS, an NHS supplier or in adult social care. Sponsorship under this particular scheme falls within the Skilled Worker route of the UK’s immigration system. Currently, the stringent criteria for a role to qualify for sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route means that junior level care worker roles cannot ordinarily qualify for sponsorship in the UK, but this looks set to change.
What is the Government proposing?
Currently, under the Skilled Worker route, a role must be skilled at RQF level 3 (equivalent to A level) or above and the migrant must meet minimum English language and maintenance requirements. In addition, the migrant must usually be paid at least £25,600 a year (or the going rate for the role, if higher) based on a 39-hour work week.
What does this mean for the sector? Well, owing to Brexit and mandatory vaccinations being implemented across the UK in various sectors, the care industry has been significantly affected in terms of its ability to recruit suitably qualified staff. This has meant that care worker, care assistant and home care roles are now considered in such demand that the Government intends to add these roles to the shortage occupation list. The good news is that a role on the shortage occupation list does not need to meet the stringent salary threshold of £25,600 per year, but, instead, a salary of at least £20,480 per year can be offered, subject to other eligibility criteria being met.
How long could a worker stay on the scheme?
Social care workers, care assistants and homecare workers would be eligible to stay and work for a minimum 12-month period when the extension to the scheme is implemented. Successful applicants may also bring their dependents with them to the UK.
What should care sector employers be doing?
As the Health and Care visa scheme falls under the current Skilled Worker immigration route, care sector employers wishing to take advantage of the scheme will require a sponsor licence to sponsor such workers, if they do not have one already.
We would recommend taking steps now to take advice and consider applying for a sponsor licence, whilst the date for the scheme to be extended is still pending. Sponsor licence applications can typically take between 8-12 weeks to be determined by the Home Office once submitted and, as such, time is of the essence if you want to utilise the scheme.