Getting personal - Carer shortages under the “new” points based immigration system

25 February 2020

As you no doubt will have heard, last week the Government announced its latest plans for the new post-Brexit immigration system.  Under the proposed new rules, from 1 January 2021, migrants wishing to come and work in the UK – including EEA citizens - will need to have a job offer in a ‘skilled’ role, normally with a salary of at least £25,600.  For more detail on the proposals, see my colleague’s blog.  For the purposes of this blog, I want to focus on the impact this will have on the lower skilled job sector – predominantly care workers.

Until 31 December 2020, EEA nationals will continue to benefit from the rules of free movement.  Put simply, this means they are not required to have a visa to work in the UK.   Statistics show that currently, 8% of jobs in the adult social care industry are held by EEA nationals, and a further 9% are held by non-EEA nationals (a proportion of whom will be in the UK as the family members of EEA nationals, courtesy of the rules relating to free movement).  Further one in eleven carer positions are currently unfilled (see BBC article, Immigration: No visas for low-skilled workers, government says).  From 1 January 2021, the future of the UK’s care sector will therefore very much depend on the ability of foreign national workers (including EEA citizens) to obtain a visa – and from what we know about the proposed new immigration system, carers (and other so called ‘unskilled’ workers, such as those employed in the hospitality and construction industries) are unlikely to fit the bill.

A recent report found that in 2018, average earnings in adult social care were £16,900 p.a.  Under the new rules, even if carer roles were to be included on the ‘shortage occupation list’ (something which there has been no mention of so far), this figure falls far short of the new minimum salary thresholds - £25,600 for a ‘skilled’ job, or £20,480 for a ‘shortage occupation’ job.

To fill the vacuum of care workers and attract more ‘home grown’ carers, it is expected that pay levels will need to increase significantly.  But with the UK’s ageing population, filling these carer positions from a diminishing pool of working age, ‘home grown’ applicants will pose challenges of its own.  Further, even if carers would qualify for a visa under the shortage occupation exemption, the cost of obtaining that visa will significantly add to agency recruitment costs, thereby driving up the cost of care even further.  In either event, under the Government’s new immigration proposals, the (already extortionate) cost of care is only set to increase.

As the daughter of a very unwell father, who in the not too distant future is likely to require round the clock care, my immediate reaction to this is (perhaps a little selfishly) to worry about the impact this will have on my family.  As a society, we will of course need to start taking more responsibility for looking after our aged and unwell relatives.  But realistically, how viable is this as a long term option?  Surely my mum can’t single-handedly care for my dad’s every need, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?  And while I’d love nothing more than to spend what time I can with my dad, he wouldn’t want me to have to give up my career.  And even if I did, I’d then need to start claiming Carer’s Allowance, which I’m sure isn’t something the Government factored in to their decision to effectively oust a large proportion of the UK’s workforce.

The Government claim the so called ‘new’ points based system will end reliance on ‘cheap immigrant labour’ – a claim I’m sure many of us would wince at.  Hardworking, foreign born workers are a fundamental cog in the wheel that makes up society. To dismiss these much needed hardworking employees, who are meeting a growing demand for social care, as ‘cheap’ is disappointing (even insulting) to those of us who see the difference such carers can make in the lives of those for whom they care.  Let’s hope the Government wake up to this reality sooner rather than later.  If not, the UK will need to start preparing itself for significant shortages in essential, lower skilled professions across the board. 

About the author

Josephine Burnett is an Associate in the Immigration team at Kingsley Napley.  She advises clients on a range of personal UK immigration matters.  In particular, she has experience in assisting with applications under the family reunion provisions of the Immigration Rules, registration and naturalisation applications, applications for Pre Settled and Settled Status under the EU Settlement Scheme, and applications under Tier 1 of the Points Based System.

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