Several unions have responded to the government’s new post-Brexit immigration policy with condemnation, describing it as “shambolic” and “disastrous”.
The government today revealed its new immigration policy, which has been greeted with condemnation by trade unions.
One of the main concerns is that the new post-Brexit visa system excludes most care workers, despite fears of staff shortages in the sector.
In announcing the new system, Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied the care homes would struggle to recruit enough workers. However, the Royal College of Nursing have responded saying that the plans fell well short of what is required in the sector and would directly affect patient care.
Under the new points-based system, senior care workers like team leaders will be eligible for the new visa but the majority of care workers will not.
Details of the new immigration rules, which come into effect in the new year, were outlined in a 130-page Home Office paper and show there will be no route into the UK for the vast majority of care workers from overseas. This is despite repeated warnings from the care sector regarding staff shortages and concerns about the impact of coronavirus on the workforce.
Home Office officials have said they expect the shortfall to be made up of UK nationals joining the care sector amid rising unemployment in other sectors caused by the coronavirus crisis.
However, with over 120,000 vacancies currently estimated in the sector and 17% of social care jobs taken by non-British citizens, trade unions have criticised the new policy.
In response to the government’s announcement, Dame Donna Kinnair, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Once again, we are disappointed to see the Government’s plans for the UK’s future immigration system falling short of what is required to meet the workforce needs of the health and social care sectors, now and in the future.
“The Government is ignoring our concern that we need an appropriate immigration route for social care workers. Arbitrary salary thresholds will prevent key workers from working in the UK, which will directly impact patient care.
“The pandemic has revealed how reliant the NHS is on good social care and vice versa – they cannot be viewed as separate services. The care system has been heavily reliant on international staff, and the proposals continue to ignore the significant risk to this sector, and therefore the entire health and care system across the UK.”
GMB national secretary Rehana Azam also responded, calling the new rules an “embarrassing shambles” and accused the government of punishing patients who rely on care and their families: “The government’s new immigration rules are descending into an embarrassing shambles and makes no consideration or acknowledgement of the vital job care workers have been doing these past few months.
“The proposed ‘Health and Care Visa’ apparently fails to include care workers and NHS contractors within its scope – and imposes salary thresholds that would prevent most underpaid care workers and many NHS porters, cleaners, and other support staff from qualifying for in any event.
“Who will keep our hospitals running and our care home going when ministers pull up the drawbridge? At a time when care is facing its greatest ever crisis, and with care homes reliant on hundreds of thousands of workers from outside Europe and facing staffing shortfalls, ministers are cutting off their noses to spite their faces.
“It’s those who rely on care and their families who now face being punished by this ministerial incompetence. Demand on health and social care is increasing every day and the pandemic has shown just how vital these workers are, yet the government seems intent on keep branding them as low skilled and exacerbating the crisis by creating new barriers.
“The government is piling on stress and anxiety to the high-skilled, underpaid workers who do an outstanding job keeping our country going and without whom we could not simply do without.”
Trade union UNISON described the decision to exclude care workers as “a disastrous mistake” and will make recruitment in the sector even more difficult than it currently is.
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Social care was in crisis long before the pandemic. Refusing to include care workers in the new NHS visa is a disastrous mistake that will make existing problems spiral. The sector is desperately short of staff and heavily reliant on the skills of overseas workers. Recruitment will now become even harder.
“Ministers must get to grips with the massive issues facing social care, which only an urgent overhaul will fix. The huge vacancies in care can’t be filled simply by using newly unemployed workers. This shows how little the government understands the scale of the task ahead.
“Low-paid health and care workers also face a massive blow from changes to the health surcharge that will create an unfair two-tier system. Those least able to afford to pay will be forced to find the cash up front and then claim it back. Care staff, porters, cleaners and many others who look after us and keep us safe deserve far better.”