Tightening of the Skilled Worker UK Visa Route for Care Workers

Business Immigration, 29 February 2024

As announced by the Home Secretary on 4 December 2023, and as we reported in our earlier post, changes are being made to tighten the Health and Care Worker route for Skilled Workers sponsored as care workers or senior care workers in the UK, in response to high levels of non-compliance, worker exploitation and abuse, as well as unsustainable levels of demand.

In the year ending September 2023, 83,072 visas were granted for care workers and a further 18,244 visas for senior care workers, comprising 30% of all UK work visas granted. In addition, 69% of work-related dependant visas were granted for health and care worker dependants.

What are the key changes?

The reforms will ensure that as from 11 March 2024:

  • Care workers and senior care workers will no longer be able to bring dependants to the UK (partners or children).
  • Care workers and home carers with a working location in England will only be able to obtain a Skilled Worker visa if their sponsor holds registration with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and is currently carrying on a regulated activity.  The CQC is a public body of the Department of Health and Social Care of the UK which regulates and inspects health and social care providers in England. 
  • Senior care workers with a working location in England will similarly, only be able to obtain a Skilled Worker visa if their sponsor holds registration with the CQC and is currently carrying on a regulated activity. 

The latter two bullet points will not affect the eligibility of care workers and home carers sponsored as Skilled Workers with a working location in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.  

The changes will also not affect doctors or nurses. The NHS will continue to have the access it currently enjoys to these professions, and the changes will also not apply to other occupations under the Health and Care route such as psychologists, physiotherapists, therapy professionals, midwives or dental practitioners.

How will this impact Skilled Workers sponsored as care workers or senior care workers in the UK before 11 March 2024?

Transitional arrangements will apply for Skilled Workers who have already applied on the Health and Care Worker route and who are sponsored for a job in occupation code “6145 Care workers and home carers” or “6146 Senior care workers” before the changes come into force on 11 March 2024.

The transitional arrangements mean that until and after the new Immigration Rules come into effect on 11 March 2024:  

  • Care workers and senior care workers already in the UK with a Skilled Worker visa granted before 11 March 2024 will be able to remain with their dependants, including extending, changing employer and settlement. 
  • Care workers and senior care workers already in the UK with a Skilled Worker visa granted before 11 March 2024 and with a working location in England, will be able to apply to extend their permission to stay in the UK with the same sponsor, and settle, without the CQC regulation requirement applying to them.
  • If a care worker or senior care worker holds a Skilled Worker visa before the rules change on 11 March 2024, but has not yet brought dependants to the UK, they will be allowed to bring dependants during their visa.    
  • Individuals who are in the UK on any other route, including where that route permits dependants, who switch into the Skilled Worker visa as a care worker or senior care worker after the rules change on 11 March 2024 will not be able to apply with or for their dependants.   
  • Care providers in England who have been sponsoring workers in exclusively non-regulated activities (and therefore, not required to be registered with the CQC) before the rules change on 11 March 2024, should be able to continue to sponsor these workers, including for extensions to their visa on those terms, but not hire new ones.     

Will this lead to a shortage of care workers in the UK?

Currently, both care workers and senior care workers are listed on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) across all of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  The SOL lists occupations where employers in the UK face a shortage of suitable labour and where it is deemed sensible to fill those shortages with migrant workers.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Providers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland sponsoring care workers and senior care workers will not need to hold any registration with the comparative care quality commissions such as the Care Inspectorate in Scotland, the Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) or the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) in Northern Ireland.   This will provide assurance to the public in these nations about the availability of health and social care services.

England

In England, the above measures are intended to end the exploitation and abuse identified by the Migration Advisory Committee and National Care Association and ensure that those who come to the UK within the Skilled Worker UK visa route as care workers genuinely provide care for those who need it within a regulated environment.

Are there other measures being introduced to grow the social care workforce in the UK?

At the same time as introducing this package, at least £500 million will be invested over the next three years (2022/23 to 2024/25) in the UK to support a strategy for the social care workforce. And at the Autumn Statement in 2022, up to £7.5 billion was made available over two years to boost capacity in social care.

It is additionally expected that increasing the training of nurses, allied health professionals and nursing associates will go some way to alleviate the pressures in the adult social care sector as some of the people who train in these professions will choose to work in social care when they are qualified.

How can we help?

We can provide comprehensive advice to individuals globally seeking to apply for a Skilled Worker visa within an eligible health occupation in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

If you are a provider of health care in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland seeking to employ and sponsor foreign nationals in the health and care sector in the UK, we can also assist you with the Sponsor Licence application to sponsor overseas healthcare professionals.

For more detailed UK immigration advice and for any other questions on this and other UK immigration developments, please contact us at info@viajeukimmigration.com