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Into Perspective: How will the new immigration policy impact on social care?

The dawn of the new year also sees the end of freedom of movement between the EU and the UK. This has stark implications for the country’s immigration policy.

Government’s new points-based immigration policy will render most social care roles ineligible to qualify for a work visa. In a sector underpinned by EU workforce, and where vacancies totalled over 120,000 in 2019, it seems that social care faces an uphill battle to overcome the challenges.

It is important to remember that people joining the social care workforce from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will be largely unaffected by the new policy. Likewise, people already working in the sector in England and the rest of the UK can remain.

However, those moving from Europe will be subject to a revised immigration criterion, based on amassing enough ‘points’ to qualify for a work visa. Whilst the new rules are complex, the main criteria that must be achieved are:

  • Speaking English to a required standard.
  • To have a job offer from a licensed sponsor that requires A-levels or equivalent.
  • To earn over £25,600 annually.

This is known as the skilled worker route. Alternatively, for those earning a minimum of £20,480, points can be earned through the possession of a PhD or a role on the ‘shortage occupation list’.

Falling short of the mark

The biggest concern for providers facing the prospect of recruiting from Europe under the new policy is that of money – salaries particularly. It is widely regarded that most current social care jobs in the UK do not pay the £25,600 minimum wage threshold, nor do they require A-level equivalent qualifications. This is compounded by the fact that almost 90% of salaries in the sector were below the Real Living Wage in 2019.

The issue associated with salaries in social care is nothing new. While Government insists on providers shifting investment towards their domestic workforce, rather than addressing the recruitment challenges posed by the new policy, the sector is concerned with the long-promised reform that will enable it to fulfil Government’s financial demands. Increasing pay in social care is a longstanding solution presented by the sector as a means of kickstarting reform. Not only would this make working in social care more attractive for people in the UK, it would also open the door for more EU nationals to qualify for a UK work visa under the new immigration policy.

 Workforce woes

It is feared that the new immigration policy will exacerbate issues faced by an already struggling social care workforce. In 2019, figures revealed that approximately 1,100 people were leaving their jobs every day. In 2020, the role of COVID-19 must be recognised for the part it played in both recruitment and retention. The pandemic placed the workforce under even greater pressure than it was already under, at a time when more staff are needed to facilitate a growing demand from an ageing population. Between 2015/16 and 2018/19, the older population increased by nearly 468,000.

As we enter 2021, we are faced with a social care sector deprived of the funding it needs to invest in its domestic workers, coupled with a new immigration policy that will make it tougher for providers to employ from within the EU.

It will be a challenging time’

The most immediate pressing issue for many employers will be to secure the status of current workers/employees who are EEA nationals remaining in the UK into 2021. These workers will need to apply to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme rules by 30th June 2021.

As matters stand, care workers wishing to apply to enter the UK or to remain after 30th June will now need a salary of £20,480 or more, among other qualifying criteria in a points-based system in which individuals will need to score 70 or more points to be granted entry, or the right to remain in the UK.

It will be a challenging time as employers seek to verify the status of their employees and continue to provide adequate staffing for the services they provide. Complications may arise where contract termination is required, and legal advice should be sought.

It falls to all employers to perform ‘right to work’ checks when taking on new recruits, to check the individual’s identity, nationality and immigration status. Fines or even imprisonment may be imposed upon employers who employ illegal workers. Follow-up checks will also be needed to ensure continued compliance with immigration law.

In most cases the employer will need to act as licensed sponsor for the employee. As a sponsor, the employer is subject to a number of duties, including:

  • Paying to apply for a sponsorship licence and the Immigration Skills Charge for each migrant.
  • Record-keeping duties – the employer must keep documents relating to each migrant worker.
  • Reporting duties – this includes reporting certain information about the migrant (eg if they fail to attend work) as well as the employer organisation (eg if it changes its name).
  • Complying with UK immigration laws and other legislation – the employer must comply with all relevant legislation and all parts of the Worker and Temporary Worker sponsor guidance.

Moving forwards, employers will need to conduct a workforce audit to identify all EEA workers who entered the UK prior to 31st December 2020 and to apply for settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme on or before 30th June 2021.

Employers should also consider applying early for a sponsorship licence if intending to employ migrant workers coming to the UK for the first time in 2021.

Tom Woodward, Specialist Employment Solicitor, Scott-Moncrieff & Associates


Change will happen slowly and powerfully

On paper, this new system should have little effect on EU nursing recruitment in social care. However, in practice the increased administrative burden and misunderstanding around limits on free movement will reduce the number of EU nurses coming to the UK.

At the same time, the majority of potential care workers from across the world will not be eligible. Given that almost the entirety of adult social care workforce growth in the last few years has come from non-UK EU nationals, putting a plug in this supply will significantly impact on our ability to scale the workforce to meet the demands of an ageing population.

For those currently working in social care, it looks like there will be three key negative effects on their ability to perform their roles to a high standard: a cultural impact, a psychological effect and an increased risk of overwork and burnout.

Culturally, it has been shown time and again that workforce diversity is beneficial for productivity and performance. Are we really happy to put a pin in this and say that we only want our care workers to be British? I think this will have concerning and  long-standing cultural challenges.

Secondly, we are already hearing about the psychological impact of Brexit on our EU colleagues who report feeling unrepresented and unappreciated. If this is left to ferment, we could be storing up problems for the future.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, this policy will put extreme pressure on an already overstretched workforce. At a time when demands on the sector are at their greatest and we’re facing such a significant crisis in recruitment, any further deterioration risks widespread burnout of staff and a workforce exodus.

If we can take one positive from this policy, it is the potential of improving access to immigration of non-EU nurses to the UK. By opening up this global talent pool, we may be able to offset some of the effects of
years of underinvestment in UK nurse training.

It will take time to realise the actual impact of the points-based system on the social care workforce. Like a glacier, changes to workforce demographics on this scale will happen slowly and powerfully – once those movements have started, it is very hard to change course. There will be a very bumpy road ahead.

Charles Armitage, Co-Founder and Chief Executive, Florence



About Tom Woodward

Tom Woodward, Specialist Employment Solicitor, Scott-Moncrieff & Associates

Tom provides advice and assistance on all aspects of contentious and non-contentious employment law matters. He has exten…

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sive experience of bringing and defending employment tribunal claims with particular expertise in discrimination and unfair dismissal.

Tom offers practical, cost-effective employment advice and re presentation with a particular focus on providing outstanding value to his clients.

About Charles Armitage

Dr Charles Armitage is the Co-Founder and CEO of Florence, a technology company that makes social care staffing effortless and outstanding.

Prior to starting Florence, Charles worked in the NHS as…

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a surgeon. He is passionate about making simple and delightful technology that supports care providers to treat their residents with the care and dignity that they deserve.

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