The UK government announced on Friday that it will relax immigration rules on care workers to tackle acute staff shortages in the social care sector.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it will make temporary changes to the health and care visa to make social care workers, care assistants, and home care workers eligible for a 12-month period.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the measure would help to “ensure short-term sustainability” for the social care sector.
We’re making it easier to recruit to roles in social care with temporary changes to immigration rules:
▶️ Care workers, care assistants and home care workers eligible for the Health and Care Visa
▶️ Care staff added to the Shortage Occupation List
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) December 24, 2021
The decision follows the recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to add care workers and home carers to the Shortage Occupation List, which is designed to help foreign workers get work visas to fill jobs where there are shortages.
The MAC said in mid-December that the end of freedom of movement following Brexit had reduced the supply of EU workers, and visa rules should be relaxed “immediately” to temper “severe and increasing difficulties” the sector is facing with recruitment and retention.
The UK government’s decision to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for front-line health and social care staff in England is expected to worsen the shortages, as government estimates suggest more than 123,000 people may be forced to leave the sector as a result.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the care sector is experiencing “unprecedented challenges prompted by the pandemic.”
She said the visa relaxation will strengthen the workforce and help “alleviate some of the pressures currently being experienced.”
The temporary measures are expected to come into effect early next year and will be in place for a minimum of 12 months.
Care workers and carers from overseas will be able to move with dependents, including partners and children, and the visa offers a path to settlement in the UK, the DHSC said.
The opposition Liberal Democrats said the visa offer was “too little, too late.”
“When Boris Johnson delivered Brexit he pulled the rug from under the care sector’s workforce,” said Daisy Cooper, the party’s health and social care spokeswoman.
“Now, the paltry offer of a one-year visa will likely fail to attract the numbers of care workers we so desperately need,” she said.
PA contributed to this report.