New immigration plan branded ‘disastrous’ for ignoring vital role of ‘second class’ care workers

Campaigners have accused the Government of excluding care workers from its new immigration system and ignoring the “vital role” they have played during the coronavirus pandemic.

Critics hit out at the lack of visa options for foreign care workers in the points-based system, which is due to come into force on January 1 when EU freedom of movement ends.

Government documents published on Monday confirmed plans to deny visas to low-skilled workers, which could also include hospitality staff and labourers like builders, if they cannot meet the criteria for applications.

The move – which was fiercely criticised when it was initially announced earlier this year – has now been branded “shambolic” and “disastrous” by campaigners amid a groundswell of support for staff in the care sector through the Covid-19 crisis, in light of fears that NHS cleaners and porters will also be affected by the changes.

Rehana Azam, national secretary of the GMB union, described the rules as an “embarrassing shambles” which “make no consideration or acknowledgement of the vital job care workers have been doing these past few months”.

Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “The Government’s decision not to include social care workers in the NHS visa scheme is another example of the way in which the Government treats social care staff as second class citizens.”

Satbir Singh, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “We’ve gone from clapping for our key workers to calling them ‘low skilled’ in a few short weeks.”

Unison’s assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said the move will make recruitment “even harder”, adding: “Social care was in crisis long before the pandemic. Refusing to include care workers in the new NHS visa is a disastrous mistake that will make existing problems spiral.”

She said ministers “must get to grips” with the “massive issues facing social care, which only an urgent overhaul will fix”.

Designed to cut the number of low-skilled migrants entering Britain from the beginning of next year, the new system aims to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to get UK visas.

People who want to live and work in the UK will need 70 points to apply for a visa.

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

Some NHS health professionals, including social workers, will be able to apply for a specific health and care visa, designed to be quicker and cheaper, but this route will not be open to care workers, Downing Street confirmed.

Although senior care staff or managers may meet a “skilled” worker threshold for a visa, the vast majority of care workers would not be eligible, according to officials.

Other visa options for young people, students and graduates – and those granted to relatives of work visa applicants – may still allow foreign workers to get jobs in the care sector but there is no dedicated employment route for the industry.

Last month Brian Bell, the new chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), told MPs social care staff should be paid at least £10 an hour to help fill vacancies and avoid the need to rely on migrant workers.

It is unlikely that overarching problems with staff shortages and job retention can be solved by the time the immigration changes are made, he said, but he suggested unemployment brought on by coronavirus could be an opportunity for the sector to attract staff.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We want employers to invest more in training and development for care workers in this country.

“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 £1.5 billion of funding for social care in 2021/22, as well as launching a new recruitment campaign.”

Existing European Union workers in the care sector could apply to stay in the UK through the settlement scheme, “and a very large number have done so”, the spokesman said.

Boris Johnson said the UK will have a “humane and sensible” immigration system despite “taking back control” after Brexit.

Asked if he thought there would be enough people coming in to work in the social care system, the Prime Minister told reporters: “I do,” adding: “We’re not going to be simply slamming the gates and stopping anybody anywhere coming into this country.

“Where people can contribute to this country, where people want to make their lives and do great things for this country, of course we’re going to have a humane and sensible system.”

What does the Government have against care workers, asks Labour

Ministers were asked what the Government had against care workers after it revealed more detail of its new points-based immigration system.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds: “Today, having read the details of the proposed new immigration system, I was disappointed if unfortunately not shocked to see evidence yet again that this Government does not consider carers to be skilled workers as they have been excluded from the qualifying list for the Health and Care Visa.

“After the Prime Minister accused care workers of not following the guidance on Covid-19 and now this, can the Home Secretary (pictured) please answer a simple question: What does the Government have against care workers?”

Home Office minister Kevin Foster replied: “We have every support for our care workers and senior care workers will qualify under the new points-based system.

“And what I’d say to (Nick Thomas-Symonds) is that people will look at what has 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 minimum wage when we need to prioritise jobs here in this country.”

“We are engaging regularly with the care sector, we’re listening to what they said, but our priority is that these jobs should be valued, rewarded and trained for, not immigration be an alternative to that.”

Government documents show care workers have not been included in the list of professions which qualify for the health and care visa.

Although some immigration experts suggested the role could be added to the shortage occupation list for visas if there is a short-term need to fill vacancies in the industry quickly.

According to a Government policy document, the list currently includes: Biological scientists and biochemists; physical scientists; medical practitioners; psychologists; pharmacists; ophthalmic opticians; dental practitioners; medical radiographers; podiatrists; health professionals which are not elsewhere classified; physiotherapists; occupational therapists; speech and language therapists; therapy professionals not elsewhere classified; nurses; midwives; social workers and paramedics.

Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said: “Can I ask the Home Secretary now whether her decision to exclude social care workers from the health and care visa does mean that those care workers will also have to pay the immigration surcharge up front?

“And if so, why is it fair for them to have to find many more thousands of pounds up front as well?”

Mr Foster replied: “To be clear, the health and care visa, by the definition of its name, will include various areas in the care sector.

“But again, as I touched on to the shadow home secretary, our vision for the future of the care sector is about providing rewarding opportunities to UK based workers, not being based purely on immigration.”

He said he hopes to bring in the visa “significantly before” January 1 next year to have in place so people can apply in advance and avoid paying the surcharge, with refunds also being offered.

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