Immigration rules for care workers were relaxed today because of crippling staffing shortages that have left the sector ‘on its knees’.
More than 105,000 care jobs are currently going unfilled — equivalent to about one in 12 positions in the workforce. Vacancy rates spiralled when No10’s ‘no jab, no job’ mandate kicked in last November.
Care bosses now say the crisis is so bad they are being ‘held to ransom’ by agencies charging ‘extortionate’ rates, and are struggling to fill gaps on their rotas.
In hope of fixing the crisis, ministers have said they will ‘fast-track’ visa applications from people looking to work in the sector.
Those applying will also be given the option to come to the UK with their partner and children, and later considered for settled status.
They will only need to earn £20,480 a year, compared to the threshold of £25,600 beforehand.
Home Secretary Priti Patel argued the relaxation — in place for at least 12 months — would help to ‘bolster the workforce’ and alleviate current pressures.
Care leaders today welcomed the move, saying that it would help bring more staff to the sector to help plug gaps.
But they said it did not go far enough to deliver the change ‘everyone would like to see’, and that homes were already facing delays with applications for the visas.
More than 105,000 care jobs are currently going unfilled — equivalent to about one in 12 positions in the workforce. Vacancy rates spiralled when No10’s ‘no jab, no job’ mandate kicked in last November
The care sector has been struggling against a staffing crisis for years, with low pay leading to many employees being lured away by higher wages elsewhere.
It has always relied on foreign workers to help plug the gap, with about 16 per cent of staff currently from overseas (7 per cent EU nationals, and 9 per cent non-EU).
More than 40,000 workers were lost last November when the Government made it a requirement for all staff to be double-jabbed.
Although this rule is now set to be relaxed as in the NHS — where it was set to come in this April — care bosses say the damage has already been done.
Care workers were added to the shortage occupations list on Christmas Eve — which includes professions where the UK as too few staff.
The Migration Advisory Committee — which manages the list — said at the time that visa rules should be relaxed ‘immediately’ to help with ‘severe and increasing difficulties’ in the workforce.
Ms Patel said today: ‘The changes we’ve made to the health and care visa will bolster the workforce and help alleviate some of the pressures currently being experienced.’
Announcing plans for the change in December, Mr Javid said: ‘It is vital we continue to do all we can to protect the social care sector during the pandemic and beyond.
‘These measures, together with the series of support packages announced since September, will help us ensure short term sustainability and success for our long-term vision to build social care back better.’
Nadra Ahmed, the chair of the National Care Association, said today homes were being over-charged by agencies as they tried to plug staffing gaps.
She said the relaxation would help to ease the crisis.
But warned homes were already facing delays in the application process.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are being held to ransom by agencies at this time and they’re charging extortionate rates, which providers (care homes) are having to pay.’
She added: ‘I think this (the immigration rules easing) is a slightly easier way of doing it, but the process has not been simplified — which I hoped it would be.
‘The Home Office isn’t able to cope with the number of applications at this point in time.’
The Independent Care Group, which represents providers in York and north Yorkshire, also welcomed the move but said it was already plagued by bureaucracy.
Chairman Mike Padgham said providers are ‘experiencing lengthy delays in getting the licences needed to recruit staff, which is the last thing we need’.
He continued: ‘We need these staff to provide care today and tomorrow, not some time in the future when the bureaucracy is sorted out. The Government needs to streamline this process, or we will be no better off.
‘This obstacle should never have been put in our way in the first place. But then once a decision had been taken to remove it, we should not have had to wait this long – it was announced on Christmas Eve after all.
‘Now we are finding that there are further delays. It is simply not acceptable for a sector that is on its knees already.
‘The people who need care and those providing it deserve better than this.’
Last year’s announcement came after campaigners accused the Government of excluding care workers from its new immigration system and ignoring the role they have played during the coronavirus pandemic.