The government recently announced that care workers will become eligible to apply for a Health & Care worker visa for a temporary period of 12 months. The Health & Care worker category, which falls under the sponsorship regime, was initially launched in August 2020 to enable medical professionals to work within the NHS or for an NHS supplier or in adult social care.
These temporary measures are intended to alleviate the significant pressures facing the social care sector, particularly following Brexit and the pandemic. It is anticipated that the changes will take place in early 2022, possibly in February.
Care workers will be added to the Shortage occupation list, meaning that the minimum salary to qualify for a Health & Care visa will be £20,480 per year.
The benefits of care workers falling under the Health & Care category include reduced visa application fees, as well as an exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge payment (usually charged under the sponsorship regime at £624 per year of the visa in order to access NHS treatment). This type of visa also benefits from fast track processing without an additional fee with the majority of applications being processed within three weeks.
In order to be able to make use of this scheme, care providers and care homes will need to be registered with the Home Office as a licensed sponsor. They will need to show that they are active and trading and will need to agree to take on a number of reporting and recording duties. Care providers who do not already have a sponsor licence should consider applying for a sponsor licence as soon as possible in anticipation of these changes. Sponsor licence applications usually take around two months to be approved once an application is submitted and time is needed to collate all the necessary documents first and to ensure the necessary HR systems are in place so this is not a quick process.
Whilst these are welcome measures, the minimum salary threshold of £20,480 per year is likely to be above the standard rate paid for these roles. In addition, there is the cost of the immigration applications. Care providers will need to consider if they can pay this higher salary threshold and the additional costs involved in sponsoring non-UK nationals and whether they are willing to take on the duties of a sponsor.