Care workers do not qualify for health visa in new post-Brexit immigration plans

13 July 2020, 12:16 | Updated: 13 July 2020, 18:06

Social care workers do not qualify for the government's new health and care visa under the UK's post-Brexit immigration system, Downing Street has confirmed.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has unveiled details of how the UK's new points-based system will operate when it comes into effect on 1 January next year, after EU freedom of movement rules end.

A health and care visa will provide a route for key health professionals to work in the UK.

However, this will not include social care workers, Number 10 revealed.

The prime minister's official spokesman said the government wants employers to "invest more in training and development for care workers in this country".

He said: "On care workers specifically, our independent migration advisers have said that 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."

The department for health and social care later clarified the money is in fact for 2020/21.

Existing EU workers in the care sector could apply to stay in the UK through the settlement scheme "and a very large number have done so", Mr Johnson spokesman added in a briefing to journalists.

"Those people will remain in the UK providing really important care to the elderly and the vulnerable."

Speaking during a visit to the London Ambulance Service on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK will have a "humane and sensible" immigration system after the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

"Although of course we are going to be taking back control and we are controlling our immigration system we're not going to be simply slamming the gates and stopping anybody anywhere coming into this country," he said.

Asked if he thinks there will be enough people coming into the country to work in the social care system, Mr Johnson replied: "I do.

"Don't forget, one of the amazing things we've seen in the last few months is actually there are more EU nationals, I'm proud to say, living and working in this country than we even thought.

"We're seeing huge numbers of people registering for their right to remain and that's great so we have a big, big stock of workers who are helping out in this country who have come from abroad."

People who want to live and work in the UK will need to gain 70 points to be eligible to apply for a visa under the government's new system.

Points will be awarded for key requirements such as being able to speak English to a certain level, having a job offer from an approved employer, and meeting a minimum salary threshold.

The health and care visa has been designed to provide "fast-track" entry for those with a job offer from the NHS.

The failure to include care workers in the list of professions eligible for the new NHS visa was criticised in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, described the move as "patently the wrong decision".

"Reforming and refinancing care will take time, if it happens at all, so the prudent approach would be to keep the door open to EU-based social care staff at all levels for 3-5 years at least," she posted on Twitter.

The prime minister recently came under fire for claiming "too many" in the sector "didn't really follow the procedures" during the coronavirus crisis.

And Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds asked: "What does this government have against care workers?

"The latest papers on the proposed immigration system confirm that the Tories do not consider carers as skilled workers.

"Have they learned nothing from this crisis?"

Mr Thomas-Symonds later quizzed Ms Patel on the issue in the House of Commons, although the home secretary left it to her immigration minister Kevin Foster to respond.

"Senior care workers will qualify under the new points-based system," Mr Foster told MPs.

"People will look at what's happened over the last few months and think that, surely, the vision for the social care sector is not to carry on looking abroad to recruit at or near the minumum wage when we need to prioritise jobs in this country."

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Mr Thomas-Symonds highlighted how there were more than 100,000 vacancies in the social care sector in England alone.

But Mr Foster said the economic crisis as a result of the coronavirus pandemic had left many Britons out of work as he dismissed claims of a labour shortage.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "The government is ignoring our concern that we need an appropriate immigration route for social care workers.

"Arbitrary salary thresholds will prevent key workers from working in the UK, which will directly impact patient care."

Rehana Azam, national secretary of the GMB union, said the new immigration rules were "descending into an embarrassing shambles and makes no consideration or acknowledgement of the vital job care workers have been doing these past few months".

Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Layla Moran said: "How can Boris Johnson clap for carers one day then refuse to give them a visa the next?"

The government's immigration plans also include provisions to ban foreign criminals sentenced to more than a year in jail from entering the UK.

The change means criminals from the EU would be treated the same as currently happens to those from non-EU countries.