According to the government more than 40,000 social care staff left the sector between April and October 2021. Care homes are struggling to find people willing to do this difficult work and, current estimates suggest that there are more than 100,000 permanent vacancies waiting to be filled. The recruitment pool shrunk further in November after the government made it illegal for care homes to retain or employ anyone who hadn’t been fully vaccinated unless they were medically exempt.

The UK Government has added care sector workers to the shortage occupation list in a bid to drive up recruitment. This means that care homes will be able to sponsor a much wider group of overseas workers to help to ease the pressure.

The Home Office maintains a list of job roles/titles which UK employers find difficult to fill. Currently this includes senior health care workers and nursing auxiliaries and assistants. However, from Tuesday 15 February 2022 it will be expanded to include care assistants, care workers, carers, home care assistants, home carers and support workers in nursing homes. This is a pilot scheme which will run for a period of 12 months initially, after which the Home Office will reassess the situation and decide whether to extend the scheme.

This article addresses the issues you need to consider if you want to recruit any overseas worker into one of these roles.

What steps do care homes have to take to recruit staff from overseas?

Care homes have to meet specific requirements before they can recruit social care workers from overseas. You must be an eligible employer which includes the NHS, an NHS supplier or an organisation providing adult social care. And you must hold a sponsorship licence under the skilled worker category.

If your care home isn’t approved to recruit social care workers from overseas you will need to apply for a licence as soon as possible. Fees are payable; small sponsors pay £536 and larger sponsors £1,476. The whole process takes around eight weeks, so you’ll need to factor that into your recruitment plans. It may be possible to pay an additional fee of £500 to expedite your application and get a decision within 10 days. But this service is limited and is allocated on a first come, first served basis.

Once you have a sponsorship licence it will usually last for four years.

The government has said that it will help support prospective sponsors through the process through, what it refers to as ‘engagement activities’, so if you’re interested in exploring taking out a sponsorship licence, look out for these.

Can private households apply for sponsorship licences under this scheme?

No. Although home carers are included in the shortage occupational list, the changes are not designed to enable home carers to be sponsored as skilled workers unless they are working for an organisation that meets the sponsorship requirements (such as a care home). Private households can’t usually sponsor skilled workers.

What criteria do overseas health workers have to meet?

The UK operates a points-based system and care workers, like any other eligible workers, need 70 points.

Any foreign national that wants to work in UK care homes must have a valid certificate of sponsorship issued by a Home Office approved sponsor authorised to sponsor the job in question. They don’t need any academic qualifications for the new roles, but they must be able speak and understand written English to a minimum level.

They must also be able to support themselves (and their dependants) for the first month they are in the UK or have written proof that you will meet these costs (which must be included on the certificate of sponsorship). In addition to this, they must obtain police clearance certificates from any country they have lived for at least 12 months, continuously or cumulatively, in the last ten years. That requirement also applies to any partner who accompanies them to the UK.

How quickly can overseas workers obtain a visa?

Provided the worker meets the qualifying criteria set out above, their application should be processed within three weeks.

How much do we have to pay overseas workers?

You must also pay them at least £10.10 per hour (£20,480 per annum based on a 39-hour working week).

Although salaries vary (by region and the role performed), these rates exceed the average rates paid to care workers in the UK. For example, Skillsforcare published data for 2020/21 which indicated that the average hourly rate for the adult social care workers was around £9.01 per hour.

What other fees do we have to pay to sponsor overseas care workers?

Once you have your sponsorship licence you will have to pay additional fees for each worker you sponsor. If you’re a small sponsor you pay £364 for the first 12 months, and £1,000 for the same period if you’re a medium or large employer for the Immigration Skills Charge. In addition, you may have to pay a fee of £199 for assigning a certificate of sponsorship to a care worker.

If you’re looking to recruit a number of people from overseas, these additional costs will soon add up.

Sponsors sometimes pay the application fee (£232 for a visa up to 3 years, or £464 for more than 3 years) and Immigration Health Surcharge which is £624 per annum (the fee to use the NHS) to incentive overseas workers to accept roles. However, these roles are exempt from the surcharge so you don’t need to factor it into your calculations.

Is this a permanent change?

No. This is a temporary change to the health and care visa process and will only be in place for 12 months.

Can overseas workers with a visa bring their families to the UK?

Not without a visa. Dependants can apply to join a family member with a skilled worker visa provided they meet the criteria. If their application is successful, their visa will end at the same time as the person with the skilled worker visa.

Will the temporary changes help?

Fast tracking overseas workers into vacancies seems to be sensible and logical, but it’s unlikely to solve the problem.

Last summer the UK was short of 60,000 HGV drivers and the government introduced a temporary route for overseas drivers to work in the UK. At the time, jobs were being advertised for around £40-£60k with some as high as around £90k-£100k. Despite this, very few overseas drivers applied for visas (it was reported that only 127 foreign HGV drivers had applied under the emergency visa scheme, and that only 20 UK visas had been issued).

The salaries being offered to foreign HGV drivers were high, but that didn’t attract sufficient numbers to apply (although the fact that the scheme only lasted a few months will have dissuaded many from uprooting their families). Plus, there was a shortage of drivers across Europe which meant that wages were high across the board. This scheme lasts for longer, but I doubt that a starting salary of £10.10 per hour will have the same appeal unless overseas workers are hoping to use the visa as a route to settlement here.

Even if overseas workers do apply, the visa scheme is a temporary solution to a permanent problem. The easing of visa requirements is restricted to 12 months and it’s reasonable to assume that once these more relaxed rules fall away the pool of overseas workers will dry up. And, unless employers can persuade more people into the sector, who already have the right to live and work here, the problems will continue.

We can help

Ben Xu has over 10 years of experience in dealing with UK immigration and nationality matters, particularly matters with complex personal and business immigration issues and has a 100% success rate in all applications to date. Please contact him if you'd like advice. 

This article first appeared in the February edition of Care Markets