Recruitment and the social care sector
Recruitment and retention have been ongoing challenges for the social care sector for many years, and the end of free movement means they’re unlikely to improve any time soon.
Historically, workers from the European Economic Area (EEA) have been a lifeline for the sector but with further barriers created for those living abroad, this may be about to change. As well as causing difficulties for applicants, the new immigration scheme has significantly increased the amount of administration involved for care homes.
Obtaining a sponsor licence
It is now essential for applicants to be sponsored by their employer, in order to gain a work visa.
This is an additional responsibility for care homes, which will be tasked with applying for and maintaining a sponsor licence, which can be renewed every four years. Having a licence will require additional compliance for employers and failure to meet their responsibilities may result in scrutiny, UK Visa and Immigration sponsor team.
It should be noted that a sponsor licence isn’t free. Alongside the Government visa fees, the total cost for a single applicant working for a medium to large organisation could cost and employer a minimum of £5,500.
There is also the issue of the minimum salary threshold for work visas, which is currently set at £25,600. Many of the roles in the social care sector would fall below this figure, meaning care homes would need to increase salaries to fill the gaps.
These significant financial considerations now raise the question of whether sponsoring someone from outside the UK is financially viable for organizations. Especially when it cannot be guaranteed how long a worker will stay in the role.
The Government’s stance
In 2020, the Government did introduce a specific Health and Care Worker visa to reduce the issues affecting the sector, but this is largely targeted towards those working for the NHS and many care workers will not be eligible.
However, the Shortage Occupation List may provide some much-needed support if difficulties continue. Once a job role is placed on the list, applicants can trade points against a salary that is up to 20% below the minimum salary threshold, preventing the need for increased salaries. The Home Office has commissioned Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to undertake an independent review of the impact of the immigration changes on the adult social care workforce that closes on 29 October 2021. Over the next few months it is vital for employers and representative organisations, who are facing extreme recruitment difficulties to engage with MAC to ensure their voice is heard.
Despite a social care recruitment drive recently being launched, there are many issues still deterring people from working in the sector, such as low pay and high stress. The introduction of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations from 11 November 2021 is also unlikely to help.
Although the reason behind making the vaccine mandatory is reasonable, it does run the risk of putting more people off the care sector. While employers are able to rely on a legislative basis for dismissing staff who refuse to have the vaccine, it would still leave them in a tricky situation.
Mandatory vaccines will also result in further administrative tasks for care home operators, with robust policies needed to clearly define the requirements of both workers and visitors.
This could be even more complicated for foreign workers, as every country has its own vaccination process. While there is the potential for Home Office-approved clinics being set up in each country, which would allow visa applicants to get a certificate to confirm that they’ve been vaccinated, this would come as an additional cost to the employer.
The social care sector faces some considerable recruitment challenges moving forward, and gaps will need to be filled. Having an understanding of the new immigration system is vital, helping to avoid any further difficulties later down the line.
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Tijen works with global UK businesses advising on strategic international recruitment and supports with immigration compliance facilitating assignments and relocation.