Caregivers will be added to the list of shortage professions
The government must ease immigration rules on carer jobs as the welfare sector finds it increasingly difficult to attract and retain staff.
Social workers will be added to the list of shortage occupations, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has said.
The decision follows a recommendation by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to make jobs eligible for the health and care visa and place them on the list, which is designed to help migrants obtain work visas. to fill jobs in times of shortage.
This was called for “immediately” to temper the “serious and growing difficulties” the sector is facing with recruitment and retention, the MAC said in mid-December.
The recommendation was triggered by the preliminary findings of an independent MAC review into the effect of the end of post-Brexit freedom of movement on the welfare sector and its workers.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the measure would help “ensure short-term sustainability” as he also urged carers to get vaccinated.
He said: “I also urge all healthcare workers who have not yet done so to come forward to step up now to protect themselves and those in their care.”
Social workers and carers from overseas will be able to travel with dependents, including partners and children, and the visa provides a pathway to settlement in the UK, the DHSC said.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The care sector is experiencing unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic and the changes we have made to the health and care visa will strengthen the workforce and help alleviate some of the current pressures.”
The announcement comes after campaigners last year accused the government of excluding social workers from its new immigration system and ignoring the role they have played during the coronavirus pandemic.
The temporary measures are expected to come into effect early next year and will be in place for at least 12 months.
Healthcare providers are experiencing high vacancy and turnover rates, and pressure on staff is exacerbated by the recent release of Omicron.
Sam Monaghan, chief executive of MHA, the UK’s largest charity care provider, said: ‘Essential care and support for older people is facing a staffing crisis the likes of which we have never seen before.
“Like other non-profit care providers, MHA must close the doors to our care homes and we currently have around 19% of our homes unable to accept new residents.
“As a result, older people stay in hospital longer than necessary or do not have access to the care they want.
“The changes to immigration rules announced today are a very welcome step in solving the current healthcare worker crisis.
“However, it will take a few months before older people feel the benefits of these much-needed changes.
“At the moment, we need the government to urgently deal with the pay of social workers, and we need local authorities to draw up contingency plans in case the pressures on staff get worse before improve.”
Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, said the government’s decision was a “significant recognition of the substantial workforce challenges faced by colleagues and services across social care”.
And Vic Rayner, chief executive of the National Care Forum, said: ‘This is good news at an incredibly difficult time for social care.
“The workforce is under more pressure than ever before, and this change will mean that struggling employers who are struggling to recruit in the UK labor market will have a ray of hope in the new year.
“It will be imperative that all organizations, large and small, that need these valuable additional workers are able to use the immigration system quickly.
“At present, it is complex and organizations currently using it for broader roles recognize the financial and bureaucratic burdens inherent in the system.”
Liberal Democrat health and social care spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said the relaxation of immigration rules was “too little, too late for anyone who has seen their visits to a be expensive in a care home canceled this Christmas”.
“When Boris Johnson announced Brexit he pulled the rug out from under the care workforce,” she said.
“Now the paltry offer of a one-year visa is unlikely to attract the numbers of social workers we desperately need.”
Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow secretary for health and social care, said: ‘To get this announcement through on Christmas Eve is an admission of failure by the Conservative government which is not paying carers enough to recruit or retain the staff whose we need, and failed to tackle this building problem for years.
“Workforce will ensure social workers get the pay and conditions they deserve, tackle high vacancy rates and transform training to improve the quality of care.”