Foreign care workers will find it easier to move to the UK after the Government eased immigration rules amid staff shortages across the UK care sector.
Care workers will be added to the shortage occupation list, the Department of Health and Social Care has announced.
The health and care visa eligibility will be widened to include care workers, care assistants and home care workers for a 12-month period.
Those who successfully apply will be able to bring their children and partners with them when they move to the UK, according to a statement released by the department.
The action reflects the problems in recruiting and keeping care workers that have been exacerbated by the new legal requirement for all such employees to be Covid-19 vaccinated.
Sajid Javid, the Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “It is vital we continue to do all we can to protect the social care sector during the pandemic and beyond.
“These measures, together with the series of support packages announced since September, will help us ensure short-term sustainability and success for our long-term vision to build social care back better.
“I also urge all care staff yet to do so to come forward and ‘Get Boosted Now’ to protect themselves and those they care for.”
The new visa rules are expected to come into effect in the early new year. It remains to be seen whether the change will have the desired impact of easing staff shortages.
Regional number of Omicron Covid cases in England [Map]
The care home sector has seen staff shortages for years, though recent developments may have exacerbated the issue according to experts.
Brexit, which took effect at the start of this year, ended the ability of European Union citizens to move freely to the UK, complicating attempts to hire foreign workers.
The decision by Boris Johnson’s Government to make getting vaccinated for Covid-19 a legal requirement for care workers also drove some employees to leave their jobs.
Mr Johnson and his ministers argued the policy was necessary to protect people in care from getting coronavirus and noted that doctors are already obligated to get a Hepatitis B vaccine.
The surge of omicron cases has left Government ministers carefully watching the impact self-isolation rules are having on workers in critical national industries, including healthcare.
The requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 was recently lowered from 10 days to seven, in part to ensure staff in key sectors can return to work as soon as it is safe to do so.
Care providers are experiencing high vacancy rates and turnover, and pressure on staffing is being exacerbated by the recent spread of omicron.
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This week, the chief executive of MHA – the UK’s largest charitable care provider – called for local councils to set out how they would support care if shortages worsened.
Sam Monaghan said: “While we have contingencies in place and colleagues are great at covering shifts, we have to be assured that if the worst happens and we don’t have enough people to care for our residents safely, that there are plans in place to support us.”
The provider, which employs around 7,500 staff, said it had twice as many vacancies as usual and twice as many staff absent.
Around a fifth of its homes (17) are closed to new admissions because of the shortages.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said: “The care sector is experiencing unprecedented challenges prompted by the pandemic and the changes we’ve made to the health and care visa will bolster the workforce and help alleviate some of the pressures currently being experienced.”
But Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat health and social care spokeswoman, said the relaxation of immigration rules was “too little, too late for everyone who has had their visits to a loved one in a care home cancelled this Christmas”.
“When Boris Johnson delivered Brexit he pulled the rug from under the care sector’s workforce,” she said.
“Now, the paltry offer of a one-year visa will likely fail to attract the numbers of care workers we so desperately need.”