New Immigration Proposal, New Problems?
The government’s white paper on immigration, published in December 2018, sets out a post-Brexit immigration system apparently focused on “talent and expertise… rather than where [people] come from”. The new system will favour skilled workers, the government tells us, in a bid to “…ensure the UK remains a hub for international talent from the EU and the rest of the world”.
As immigration law specialists Free Movement explain the white paper proposals bring “…EU workers within the existing Points Based System that applies to non-EU workers — but with some tweaks”. These ‘tweaks’ include:
- “Scrapping the overall cap on sponsored work visas, currently branded as Tier 2 (General)
- Lowering the skills threshold from level 6 (degree) to level 3 (A-level)
- Abolishing the Resident Labour Market Test
- Reducing the bureaucratic burden on sponsoring employers”
However, social care experts are concerned that the proposed plans will have serious repercussions for the sector, which traditionally relies on the recruitment of so-called low-skilled and often lower paid workers – many from abroad.
Who Cares Now?
Despite continued demand England’s adult social care sector faces significant challenges in recruiting and retaining its staff. As Independent Age’s Director of Policy & Influencing points out: “[T]he social care sector turnover rate is twice the national average, with almost 1,000 workers quitting their job every day”.
With vacancies in adult social care currently sitting at about 110,000, according to the last Skills for Care Workforce Intelligence report. While low wages and perceived low status mean attracting homegrown workers isn’t always an easy option, with almost 1 in 5 of the adult social care workforce in England born outside of the UK.
Skills for Care has found that:
- 7% of care workers (104,000 jobs) are from the EU – especially Romania and Poland
- While, 10% (129,000 jobs) are from outside the EU – largest groups include: the Philippines, Nigeria, India, and Zimbabwe
Meaning that non-EU nationals currently make up the majority of the foreign social care workforce.
No Free Movement, More Admin
While the EU’s free movement rules have made recruitment quick and easy, with minimal bureaucracy, ending free movement from Europe is a key part of the Brexit deal. So, the white paper makes it clear that: “Everyone will be required to obtain a permission if they want to come to the UK to work or study”.
All EU workers wishing to stay in the UK:
- Will need to apply for Settled Status under the current Brexit proposals
- Plus, there will be stricter criminality thresholds
People from non-EU countries are likely to see:
- Mobility schemes for young people who come on short-term visas expanded
- An end to the requirements for labour market tests by employers wanting to sponsor a worker
Potentially a more ‘level playing field’ means that more non-EU nationals – who already make up the largest proportion of foreign care workers – may be attracted to the UK, with one key set back: the £30,000 threshold.
Low Pay, High Value
While the plans to scrap the cap on skilled workers has been welcomed – especially by the likes of the NHS who make up around 40% of Tier 2 visas – the proposed £30,000 minimum salary threshold for workers seeking five-year visas is a big concern. As the National Health Executive reports, the white paper proposals “confuse high pay with high skill and high value”.
While the Cavendish Coalition emphasised: “The sector relies on lower paid – but hugely skilled – colleagues whose availability would be effectively cut off by a proposed salary threshold of £30,000.”
In short, the white paper proposes:
- One-year visas will be made available to workers below the £30,000 threshold
- Short-term workers will be able to move between employers without sponsorship
- But short-term workers cannot: access public funds, switch to another visa, bring family members, or use their role as a route to permanent settlement
“Non-British workers are less likely to hold managerial positions, and are over-represented in regulated professions, such as nursing and social work, and direct care work”. Meaning these hard-to-fill positions are likely to look even less attractive and thus be even harder to fill.
The white paper shows the government wants to enact these proposals at the end of the Brexit transition period, which is currently set at January 2021.
- The visa scheme will be opened in autumn 2020 – to allow would-be migrants sufficient application time
- As stated above, EU citizens already living in the UK will be able to apply for Settled Status – in order to stay legally after Brexit
- The low-skilled visa is seen as a short-term, transitional measure post-Brexit – 2025 is mentioned as a cut-off date
But with no deal still a prospect, the system could be in operation as early in April 2019 if the UK crashes out of the EU. Either way, it’s vital social care employers have clear retention and recruitment plans in place as a matter of priority.
Angel HR has been supporting care providers with expert recruitment and HR advice for over 50 years. We can help you to navigate these immigration policy changes and create a bright future for your care business, all those who work for you, and the people you care for.