What is the new Health and Care Visa and Who is Included?

Why has it been brought in?

One of the biggest questions around the end of free movement from January 2021 has been how the government will mitigate a potential labour shortage in the healthcare sector given that many care workers and other healthcare staff do not earn enough to be eligible under the proposed ‘points-based system’, which has a minimum salary threshold of £20,408 (For more information see our previous blog). These roles have previously been filled by EU migrants exercising their right to free movement, but with this ending in January 2021 the question of who will fill the gap has plagued the government.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has previously suggested mobilising the country’s ‘economically inactive’, but as this is comprised largely of students, people who have retired, people who are disabled, and people who are not currently seeking work it is apparent that this is not a satisfactory answer. In response to growing public concern, especially in light of the Covid-19 crisis the government has announced a new ‘Health and Care’ visa which will be launched this summer. Let’s explore whether this is just lip service or whether it has a real chance of filling the gap left by Brexit.

What is the Visa?

The government is selling it as a new visa category aimed to ‘ensure UK health and care services have access to the best global talent’. It will include, perhaps most notably, an exemption to the Immigration Health Surcharge, which is due to go up to £624 a year later this year. This is a big concession, likely in response to public opinion towards NHS staff and other frontline workers shifting during the Covid-19 crisis meaning the idea of charging NHS workers to use the service they helped to provide during a global pandemic was no longer palatable to the British public.

Further features of the route will include a reduced application fee (UK visa fees are among some of the most expensive in the world), which further demonstrates government commitment to encouraging foreign healthcare workers to come and support our over-burdened healthcare system. The Home Office also aims to make a decision on these cases within 3 weeks. While they are claiming this will make it ‘faster’ for applicants in this route to obtain a decision, the current processing time is 15 working days for an out of country application for a skilled worker, which the more mathematically minded will note is, in fact, also 3 weeks.

The visa will also not benefit in increased processing times thanks to the abolition of the resident labour market test as healthcare workers are considered shortage occupation workers and are thus exempt. It is difficult to see the government’s claims of a fast-track process as being significantly different from the system as it is today, and as it will exist for other skilled workers under the new scheme. The only material difference appears to be the price.

Who Is and Isn’t Covered? Will Workers in Care Homes be Able to Apply?

One of the primary concerns with the government’s original plans was that whatever provisions may be made for NHS workers, workers in care homes (private or subsidised) were largely forgotten. These workers often earn well under the proposed absolute minimum threshold of £20,408 and while in an ideal world they would be paid more, it is pointless to legislate for an ideal world that does not exist. As such the argument is that care homes, already struggling after the Covid-19 crisis, will be unable to source enough staff to function when deprived of the ability to recruit EU staff. It is worth noting that it is estimated there are currently approximately 110,000 unfilled care jobs in the UK, and of the roles filled, over 100,000 of these are filled by EU migrants.

Obviously it is unlikely that all of these EU workers will quit immediately, but as they leave or retire it will be difficult for care homes to recruit new staff, leading to a potential disaster where over 200,000 posts are unfilled. There is also the risk that in order to fill roles care homes will be forced to offer a higher salary to overseas applicants in order to meet the threshold, meaning British workers and workers with other leave to remain in the UK will end up on a lower salary than their overseas counterparts, which rather undercuts the governments claims that reducing immigration will be of benefit to the British people.

While the government has indicated that the role will be open to ‘all eligible roles within the health and care sector’, these are as follows, and notably do not explicitly include workers in care homes unless they could be classified under ‘Health Professionals not elsewhere classified’:

• 2112 – Biological scientists and biochemists
• 2113 – Physical Scientists
• 2211 – Medical Practitioners
• 2212 – Psychologists
• 2213 – Pharmacists
• 2214 – Ophthalmic Opticians
• 2215 – Dental practitioners
• 2217 – Medical Radiographers
• 2218 – Podiatrists
• 2219 – Health Professionals not elsewhere classified
• 2221 – Physiotherapists
• 2222 – Occupational Therapists
• 2223 – Speech and Language Therapists
• 2229 – Therapy professionals not elsewhere classified
• 2231 – Nurses
• 2232 – Midwives
• 2442 – Social Workers
• 3213 – Paramedics

They have also indicated that they believe ‘immigration is not the answer to the challenges in the social care sector and, as we implement the new immigration system, we want employers to focus on investing in our domestic workforce.’ This suggests that while care workers may be eligible, they will be unlikely to use this route in practice unless reforms in the healthcare sector allow for higher salaries to be paid allowing potential applicants to meet the threshold. It is worth noting that the worse the staffing crisis becomes, the less appealing the sector is to new entrants who are unlikely to be enticed by the combination of a low salary, a difficult job, and increasingly long hours doing the work of several people.

In summary while the new visa route may sound impressive, unless some serious changes are made before its launch it will do little to fill the labour gap and amounts to little more than a cheaper visa for NHS workers which, while certainly a worthy cause, will not do anything to mitigate the potential crisis facing care homes and other low paid healthcare positions as a result of Brexit.

 

If you are interested in a UK visa we can help. Contact us at [email protected] or on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.

What positive changes for employers are coming in 2021? Your guide to the new points based system

With the Covid-19 crisis throwing a spanner into the works of so many government departments and dominating the media, there’s been little news regarding Priti Patel’s new points based immigration system since the bare bones were released in February (discussed here). That changes today (13/07/2020) with a 130 page document published by the Home Office providing ‘Further Details’ of the new system, which is still on schedule to go into force from January 2021 . We will discuss the new developments and what they might mean for you below.

 

Proving Immigration Status for EU Citizens – Currently non-EU migrants working in the UK receive a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) which demonstrates their right to live and work in the UK. EU citizens have thus far not been issued with a similar physical document, prompting concerns that EU citizens may struggle to prove their immigration status to employers and landlords. The document addresses this concern, indicating that while no physical document will be issued, EU citizens will be able to access an online service which can be used to confirm their rights and access to services where necessary.

This will simplify right-to-work checks for employers by making information available in real time and removing the need to check physical documents. Similar plans are in the pipeline for landlords.

 

Biometric Requirements – EU citizens will not have to attend a Visa Application Centre to enrol biometrics but will instead be able to do so via a smartphone app. The long term aim is to expand this so that all visitors and migrants are supplying biometrics under a single system, which prioritises self-enrolment integrated with the digital application process.

 

Fees – The application fees will continue to apply as they do now, however the Immigration Skills Charge will now be applicable to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens in addition to other migrant workers.

The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) will continue to be payable to at the higher rate (£624 PA) announced earlier this year, however a discounted rate will be available for children and the government intends to exempt frontline workers in the NHS and healthcare sector.

 

Switching Visa Categories – ‘Most migrants’ will be allowed to switch from one immigration route to another without having to leave the UK, the exceptions are listed as those on short term routes such as visitors or seasonal workers. While the government has not said explicitly, this implies that individuals hoping to switch from Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visas and other long term visas which currently require return to the applicants home country would therefore be able to switch in country.

 

Sponsoring Students and Skilled Workers – The Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) will be abolished along with the cap on skilled workers.

Existing Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (ICT) sponsors will automatically be granted a new Skilled Worker licence or ICT licence.

 

Skilled Workers – Under the new system prospective skilled workers must score a certain number of points, some of which are tradeable. Meeting the mandatory criteria will net the applicant 50 points, and a further 20 points must be accrued through a combination of points awarded for salary, a job in a shortage occupation or a relevant PhD.

There are will be different minimum salary rules for workers in certain health or education jobs and for new entrants. The salary requirement for new entrants will be 30% lower than the experienced rate to a minimum of £20,480. For healthcare workers the minimum salary will be £20,480 and the £25,600 threshold required to score additional points will not be applicable. An exception will be made for nurses and midwives who can be paid a lower salary for their first 8 months in the UK until they achieve full UK registration as a nurse or midwife.

The definition of a new entrant has been expanded to include people “working towards recognised professional qualifications or moving directly into postdoctoral positions.”

 

Health and Care Visa – Aimed at incentivising people to come to work for the NHS, this visa route will have fast track entry, reduced application fees and dedicated support with the application process. Applicants will also be exempt from the IHS. This visa is still subject to the £20,480 salary threshold.

 

Global Talent Visa – This visa is aimed at attracting highly skilled migrants with specialist skills and replaces the Tier 1 (exceptional talent visa). Applicants must be endorsed by a recognised UK body as approved by the Home Office. Applicants should be internationally recognised at the highest level and should be leaders in their field or likely to become leaders in their field. There is no English language requirement and applicants will be able to settle on this route.

To facilitate access for scientists and researchers there will be a fast-track endorsement process available to individuals who are; in receipt of a named award or fellowship, in a senior academic position and, part of a publicly funded research team in receipt of prestigious funding or awards.

 

Students – No limit will be imposed on the number of international students and to further increase retention of promising students the government will launch a Graduate route in summer 2021 (the current Doctorate Extension Scheme will also close at this time). This will allow individuals who have completed a degree at a UK university to stay in the UK for 2 years after graduation during which they can work at any skill level and hopefully find a job which will enable them to switch into a skilled worker visa. Under the new scheme students will require 70 points which will not be tradeable (similar to the current system).

The current study time limit for postgraduate students will be removed although students will still have to demonstrate they are progressing academically.

 

Visitors Visas – The government intends to treat EU citizens as Non-visa nationals after free-movement is brought to an end. Individuals on a visit visa will be able to study for up to 6 months.

 

Intra-Company Transfer Visas – Unlike the current system applicants on this route will be able to apply to switch onto the Skilled Worker route (previously this was only available to those earning more than £159,600).  The cooling off period will also be adjusted so that applicants must not hold entry leave on an ICT visa for more than 5 years out of any six-year period (except where their salary makes them eligible to be granted an ICT visa for 9 years).

 

These changes (and more) will come into play from 11pm on 31/12/2020 and formal guidance and Immigration Rules will continue to be published up until this point. Please continue to follow us for the latest on immigration news.

If you need help with a UK visa for yourself or one of your employees or students, or would like some advice on any of the issues raised above, please get in touch for a consultation by emailing us at [email protected] or on 01403 801 801.

 

EU Settlement Scheme – keeping your homegrown talent

What is the EU Settlement scheme, how does it affect EU workers in Britain, and why should employers take notice?

The EU Settlement Scheme is a government programme that allows EU, EEA or Swiss nationals currently living in the UK to apply to remain here following the country’s exit from the European Union. Successful applicants who have lived here for five years or more will be given settled status, while those who have been here for under five years will receive pre-settled status.

It’s imperative that those responsible for the recruitment and management of overseas workers in their companies are aware of the scheme and what is required during the application process. While it’s not yet clear what will happen to EU employees in Britain without a registered status, it’s safe to assume they will no longer be able to work in the country once the deadline has passed. Along with causing disruption for both the worker and their employer, there may also be legal ramifications for both parties.

What can I do as an employer to keep my EU employees?

Firstly, there are a couple of dates for UK employers and their EU employees to be aware of. If Britain and the EU agree a Brexit deal by the 31st October deadline, then the final date for registering for settled status will be 30th June 2021. However, if no deal is reached, the date moves forward to 31st December 2020. The government’s website explains the process here: https://www.gov.uk/eusettledstatus

As an employer, there are a number of steps you can take to prepare

1. Undertake an audit to identify which of your employees are affected
2. Make use of the factsheets, posters and videos that the government has provided to raise awareness in your workforce
3. Check the expiry date of your Tier 2 sponsor licence. This system is likely to be extended to EU nationals after 2020
4. Make a diary note to conduct Right to Work checks in 2020 in order for your business to remain compliant with new immigration rules
5. Encourage your employees to review the options open to them. For instance, if they are eligible for Permanent Residence it might be more appropriate to apply for that instead of the EU Settlement Scheme

If you’re concerned about the possible pitfalls of the process, the UK Visas immigration team offers expert assistance. Let us help you by:

• Reviewing the status of your EU employees and their family members
• Assisting with applications
• Advising employees of their options
• Performing compliance reviews
• Examining your Right to Work checks and providing advice on best practice post-Brexit

Contact us now to arrange a free consultation and find out how we can support your organisation and assist your EU employees in securing their long-term status in the UK.

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