Home Opinion Care Sector in Crisis: Could international recruitment be the solution?

Care Sector in Crisis: Could international recruitment be the solution?

by Kirsty Kirsty

Gurjit Pall, Immigration specialist, Thorntons

The care sector continues to experience acute recruitment and retention problems with staff shortages worsening in recent years due to a number of factors, including but not limited to the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact that Brexit and the end of free movement has had on EU staff numbers, and more general concerns around pay.  The extent of the problem is further evidenced by the fact that vacancy rates have risen to their highest rate since records began, with the latest figures published by Skills for Care showing a staggering 52% increase in vacancies in 2021/22 to 165,000 vacant posts.

One option available to employers is international recruitment.  In February 2022, the role of ‘care workers’ and ‘home carers’ joined ‘senior care workers’ in becoming eligible for the Health and Care Worker Visa and being added to the Skilled Worker Shortage Occupation list.

Despite the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman’s recent comments about how the United Kingdom must not “forget how to do things for ourselves”, the UK Government appears to be committed to helping support international recruitment within the adult social care sector with £15 million being made available over 2023 to 2024.

As a direct result of Brexit, only British and Irish citizens have an automatic right to live and work in the UK.  Everyone else is required to hold their own individual immigration permission.  Employers are likely to encounter individuals who hold immigration permission to enter the UK; however, the numbers are likely to be limited.

The option, which will give an organisation the best opportunity to recruit international staff to fill recruitment gaps, is to obtain a UK sponsor licence.  Care operators must have a sponsor licence to sponsor an employee for the Skilled Worker and Health and Care Worker visa routes.  The Home Office will issue this licence, which will give the care operator direct access to the international employment market, significantly increasing the number of potential candidates for vacancies.

The costs for obtaining a sponsor licence are not as high as employers may expect.  The application fee for a licence, which is granted for four years, is £536 for small or charitable organisations and £1,476 for medium or large businesses.  Care operators must issue a Certificate of Sponsorship, which costs £199 per certificate, for each sponsored employee. The employer may also be required to pay the Immigration Skills Charge, which will be subject to the length of the employee’s sponsorship.

The Health and Care Worker visa, which is part of the Skilled Worker visa route, can be an attractive option for eligible sponsors in addressing the acute staff shortages in the care sector; particularly as this option exempts the employee and their family from having to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, which costs the visa holder £624 per year for themselves and any dependant family members on other routes.

International recruitment may not be the only solution to the care sector staffing crisis, but the latest data confirms it is proving to be a popular option with 56,900 visas granted for care workers and senior care workers in 2022.

Despite the growing number of visas being granted, the majority of the UK care sector’s 17,000-plus employers do not hold a sponsor licence and are therefore not fully utilising international recruitment.  Existing sponsor licence holders report a number of benefits to holding a licence including very high retention rates, low absence issues and highly trained and motivated employees.  For those who do not already have a sponsor licence, it may be an investment in people worth considering.

Image depicts Gurjit Pall, Immigration specialist, Thorntons

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