Getting Ready for Brexit 2021: Care Home Staff
Those in the care sector, especially those responsible for finding staff, will rightly have been concerned by Home Secretary, Priti Patel's recent unveiling of a new post-Brexit health and care visa, which excludes social care workers. The opposition and the GMB union have expressed deep concern over the announcement. Part of the frustration is due to the lack of acknowledgment or understanding by the government that care work is a skilled occupation. In the words of shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, "to exclude care workers from the health visa is a clear signal that this government does not appreciate the skill and dedication these roles involve... it is yet another insult from this Tory party to those who have been at the frontline of this crisis [COVID-19]". Prof Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, has put on record his view that the decision by the Home Office, especially in the context of the 20,000 care home deaths due to COVID-19, "has the potential to destabilize the sector even further with potentially disastrous consequences".
The government, however, takes the view that immigration of care workers should not be the solution to finding staff in this sector. The government webpage which covers the new health and care visa states, "the government is working closely with the sector to support and recognise the contributions of care workers. This includes a widespread focus on training and introducing a proper career structure to provide opportunities for those in the sector and makes it an attractive profession for prospective carers. The independent Migration Advisory Committee has been very clear that immigration is not the answer to the challenges in the social care sector and, as we implement the new immigration system, we want employers to focus on investing in our domestic workforce".
Addressing concerns over the lack of potential care staff post-Brexit, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has insisted that the UK's new immigration system is not about "slamming the gates". Interestingly, when pushed further and asked if he thinks there will be enough people arriving in the UK to work in the social care system, he replied, "I do... We're seeing huge numbers of people registering for their right to remain, and that's great, so we have a big, big stock of workers who are helping out in this country who have come from abroad". In other words, he is still relying on EU nationals to, at least in part, staff the care sector, and is hoping that those arriving before the end of 2020 will remain. The issue here is that just because an EU national applies for pre-settled or settled status, doesn't mean they will stay forever. There may be a net outflow of EU citizens from the start of 2021, leaving the care sector increasingly struggling to find recruits.
Putting the political landscape aside, what can social care, care home, and other care service providers do to ensure they can continue to operate in 2021?
Will the Care Sector Be Able to Recruit Internationally?
The full details of the new immigration policy are not yet available. But what is known is that it will be essential for any overseas citizens to have an offer of a job that is at an appropriate skill level from an approved sponsor. Overseas workers will also need a salary of £25,600 or more. By controlling what is deemed an 'appropriate skill level', the government will be able to make it possible to refuse applications for care workers. It would appear, therefore, that the Home Office is determined for the UK care sector to rely on domestic personnel. To confirm this, Priti Patel has stated "In line with ending free movement, there will be no immigration route for lower-skilled workers".
How Can Care Sector Businesses Ensure They Have Enough Staff From 2021?
It may be that the government's position on not allowing lower-skilled workers to come to the UK may falter as the economic and political reality bites later in 2021. Until that happens, care organisations will have to rely on a blend of domestic and existing carers from the EU. It is possible that the government sees the vast swathes of job losses in our lower-skilled sectors, such as retail (of which there are surely many more to come), as the answer to the problem. If this is the case, then investment in the training and development of those displaced from other sectors will surely become more commonplace.
Other visa types may also be considered by some care sector businesses, at least to fill some vacancies. The Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme (YFS) is one possible option, which currently allows 18 to 30-year-olds from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea, and Taiwan to come to the UK for travel and work for up to two years. It is also open to British overseas citizens, British overseas territories citizens, and British national (overseas). One challenge with recruiting in this sector is the turnover of staff, as youth mobility scheme visa holders typically change roles on a regular basis. Care recruiters will need to think about how they can reach out to prospective Tier 5 visa holders who are already here or in their home countries by providing an open, flexible, and attractive role, with potential career advancement opportunities. Many of the career types often relied on by those on the YFS scheme are currently struggling due to COVID-19 here and internationally, including hospitality and bar work. As such, care work may provide the perfect replacement.
We don't yet know the shape of the UK's future immigration policy from 2021 onwards, but we do know that the government is determined to stop low skilled immigration. Businesses in the care sector and recruiters are going to need to be creative in finding new ways to fill the growing number of care vacancies.
How employers can recruit workers from overseas to the UK
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