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A new statement of changes to the Immigration Rules (HC 109: Social care visas) was released on 24 January 2022. This has confirmed that social care workers can get Skilled Worker visas from 15 February 2022. The plan which was originally announced just after Christmas has now been confirmed.

The statement, which is relatively short at 6 pages long, sums up the purpose of the changes as follows:

“The changes being made add care workers to the Shortage Occupation List and make the role eligible for the Skilled Worker route, disapplying the usual requirement that a role must be skilled to at least Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF) level 3.”

Since the introduction of the Skilled Worker visa, first mentioned in the statement of changes in October 2020 and implemented in December 2020, there has been a continued push for social workers and lower-level health care workers to be added to the list of skilled occupations, and in particular to the Shortage Occupation list.

Despite being added to the Shortage Occupation List, care work continues to not be listed in the list of skilled occupations. Therefore, a new table has been added in Appendix Shortage Occupation List as “Table 3: Shortage occupations which are not otherwise eligible for the Skilled Worker route”.

There have been continued staff shortages and immense pressures on the health and social care system due to COVID-19 since early 2020. This combined with the impact of Brexit and the end of the transition period on 31 December 2021 has meant that many of the health and social care jobs that have been historically filled by overseas workers, has left many care homes and services struggling to find staff.

Medical professionals and senior care workers have been able to qualify for what is branded the Health and Care visa since the changes came into effect in December 2020. This route is essentially the Skilled Worker route with lower fees and faster processing. However, regular carers were not considered sufficiently skilled to qualify for visas under post-Brexit immigration policy.

As the occupation has not been added to the Skilled Occupations list, it may cause confusion as when you consult “Table 5: Occupation codes which are not eligible for the Skilled Worker, Intra-Company Transfer and Intra-Company Graduate Trainee routes…”, the code 6145 “Care workers and home carers”, continues to be listed here.

Further confusion arises from the fact that as they aren’t listed in Appendix Skilled Occupations, there are no “going rates” for these jobs. This means that the threshold salary will be £20,480 annually / £10.10 per hour. This is the lower-level threshold in place for occupations on the Shortage Occupation List.

Arguably, it would have been less hassle to simply add the job code 6145 to Appendix Skilled Occupations AND the Shortage Occupation list. However, it seems that the Home Office is still keen to maintain some formal distinction between skilled and unskilled work for visa purposes.

The explanatory note accompanying HC 1019 says, “a key existing requirement of the Skilled Worker route is the job offer must be one which involves duties and responsibilities involving skills equivalent to RQF level 3, broadly equivalent to a level of skills obtained through A-levels or Scottish Highers”. Though care work requires a high level of skill and dedication, often individuals are able to undertake training without completing any higher education.

This has led to the Skilled Worker rules being changed to allow people to be sponsored for shortage roles that are not skilled occupations. Paragraph SW 6.1 in Appendix Skilled Worker will read:

SW 6.1. The applicant must be sponsored for a job in an eligible occupation code listed in Appendix Skilled Occupations or Appendix Shortage Occupation List.

Further, the Home Office has stressed that this is only “temporary” to “alleviate current pressures on the health and social care system as a result of COVID-19”.

Those who are interested in applying should be aware that here will be a 12-month window for applications, i.e., 15 February 2022 to 14 February 2023, at which point the policy will be reviewed. However, there is no legal significance to that as the rules do not lapse in February 2023; the Home Office would have to actively lay another statement of changes to take care workers out again.

Based on the current impact of the ongoing pandemic and the general economic shift due to Brexit, it would be no surprise if the social care visas carried on indefinitely. This could also open other channels for similarly understaffed professions that have been hit hardest by COVID-19 and Brexit. Could this be the beginning of a new system of unskilled worker visas?

If you would like more information on the current position, or if you need advice on how to apply for a Sponsor Licence or a Skilled Worker visa, please contact us. We are able to provide full service advice and assistance for sponsoring skilled workers, including applications for a Sponsor Licence, compliance checks and applying for the Skilled Worker visa.

Nina Blythe

Nina Blythe is a current LPC law student and lead paralegal at Clarendon Park Chambers, assisting with all client care matters and specialising in Immigration, Human Rights and unlawful detention cases. Nina is in charge of the Business Immigration department and is an expert on Sponsor Licences and Skilled Worker visas.

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