Government urged to relax immigration rules for care workers as recruitment problems worsen

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The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has urged the government to make care workers immediately eligible for the Health and Care Worker Visa and place them on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) due to “severe and increasing difficulties” facing the sector.

The MAC was commissioned in July to undertake an independent review on the impact of ending of freedom of movement on the adult social care sector.

And while the committee was asked to report on its findings in April 2022, it said that early analysis points to “significant worsening” in the ability of care providers to recruit and retain care workers, and this “needs to be addressed urgently”.

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It also warned that the gap between the supply and demand for care workers may worsen in the short-term as a result of burnout from the increased workloads that occurred during the pandemic and the vaccine mandate, both of which may lead to further difficulties in retention.

The MAC said while it does not believe that immigration policy can solve all, or most, of the workforce problems in social care, including poor pay, terms and conditions, such policy could potentially help alleviate the difficulties, at least in the short-term.

MAC Chair, Professor Brian Bell, said: “Short-term fixes are not always the solution for the UK economy, however they can be important in ensuring sectors with urgent needs can access the staff they need quickly. We have outlined plans on how the Government can change their approach to short-term visas and also propose changes to address some of the challenges facing the social care sector.”

The committee explained that making care workers eligible for the Health and Care Workers Visa and placing them on the SOL would allow employers to sponsor care workers subject to a minimum salary of £20,480 per year, equivalent to £10.10 per hour for a full-time worker.

It has also called on the government to consider making the immigration system more accessible for adult social care SMEs, who may not be registered as sponsors or for whom the cost of the immigration route is too high.

The MAC said this could include using the Workforce Recruitment and Retention Fund to reduce the financial cost of recruitment through the immigration system.

Commenting on the report, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “Care England has long called for care workers to be on the Shortage Occupation List and is therefore very pleased that the Migration Advisory Committee has put forward this very important recommendation to government. There is an acute workforce shortage in adult social care now so this recommendation cannot be enacted fast enough”.

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Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke