Immigration guidance update for the social care sector

During July and August 2023 there have been some significant changes to the Government’s immigration guidance which impacts both employers and their employees within the social care sector.

Limitation to additional hours

The Health and Care Worker visa is a type of Skilled Worker visa, aimed at qualified doctors, nurses, allied health and adult social care professionals. It offers a fast-tracked and more affordable route to a visa option for the health and care sector. The visa’s criteria includes: proof of the relevant qualifications; proof of a job offer in one of the eligible health or care professions; meeting the salary threshold; working a set amount of hours; and having a valid certificate of sponsorship from the employer.

Until February 2023, workers with this type of visa were restricted to a maximum of 20 hours of work in addition to their main occupation. Under Government guidance what is considered as additional work under this type of visa, must either be:

  • in a different occupation code from the first job
  • in the same occupation code as the first job but at a different level

For example, a nurse who is a Skilled Worker visa holder can work either as an agency nurse, or as a carer in the same care home where she works as a nurse.

In February 2023 a temporary change was announced so that there was no restriction in the number of hours of supplementary work a visa holder could undertake. This was introduced to try and assist with the shortage of workers in the health and care sectors, and consequently workers under this visa could take on unlimited hours of additional work within the relevant sectors, without worrying about breaching their visa conditions.

On 27 August 2023, this temporary change was brought to an end. The position now is that Health and Care visa holders will need to update their visa if they want to undertake more than 20 hours additional work outside of their main role. To update their visa, they will need to obtain a new certificate of sponsorship from their second employer and include a letter with their application explaining their intention to change their current permission to stay. A fee will also need to be paid.

The change in the rules means that employers need to  carefully scrutinise and monitor the working hours of workers who have this visa. It is vital that this change is properly communicated to all affected employees, so that they are aware of the change in guidance. If employees are subsequently going over their 20 hour additional work cap, they will need to stop or update their visa.

Failure to report a skilled worker’s change in circumstances or allowing staff to work in breach of their visa can result in the following:

  • downgrading of the employer’s sponsorship licence to a B rating – the organisation will no longer be able to sponsor new migrants and they will be issued with an ‘action plan’ to take corrective steps
  • suspension of the licence or revocation – meaning an organisation can no longer employ migrant workers
  • being issued with a fine of a maximum of £20,000 per illegal worker

Immigration fees

In July 2023 the Government also announced an increase in the fee for work visas. In general, they will go up by 15%. There are also increases in the cost of applications for: study visas, Certificates of Sponsorship, settlement, citizenship, wider entry clearance and leave to remain visas, and priority visas. Most of these are to increase in cost by at least 20%.

Health and social care is classed as a shortage occupation and a Certificate of Sponsorship for a shortage occupation has limited fee increases. Therefore, Health and Care visa holders will experience a 15% fee increase.

How this will impact employers

  • the increased cost of a Skilled Worker visa makes it more of an entry route for those with the financial resources to apply, rather than for those with the highest skillset
  • a likely increase in cancellations or deferrals by migrant workers due to the cost increase
  • a likely higher demand for immigration fee clawback agreements and requests for financial assistance from existing employees who pay their own immigration fees
  • increased business continuity and the need to monitor right to work compliance issues for existing employees who, due to the cost increase, fail to extend their immigration permissions

In light of the changes and increases in fees, it is important that this is communicated to affected staff members to ensure compliance and help them prepare financially for the additional cost.

It is recommended that employers review existing policies that cover immigration rules compliance, clawback agreements and financial assistance. It is important to ensure that there is a consistent approach with any issues relating to this fee increase. Going forward it would be sensible to factor in the higher costs when it comes to recruitment budgets and that employers are still attracting the appropriate standard of talent despite the visa fee cost increase.

The Government has also announced an increase in the rates of the Immigration Health Surcharge, although it is subject to final confirmation and the passage of the necessary legislation. However, it is currently the Government’s intention that Health and Care Worker visa holders remain exempt from the surcharge increase.