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International recruitment in social care – is it all over? 

Many changes to the Immigration Rules are so small they are missed by people that work with them every day but when big changes that signal a major change in policy – at least until the next election – come along, they are hard to ignore. 


In the similar way, I know what happens on BBC Parliament but I don’t very often see it.  On 4th December I watched it incredibly closely, live on iPlayer in fact so I could pause, rewind, re-watch with the subtitles, re-watch without the subtitles, catch every syllable that came from Home Secretary’s mouth about seismic changes to the Immigration Rules. 


Just over four months later (it feels like much longer), it seems like the dust is settling.  The picture is still not clear, but the landscape looks different, that’s for sure.  So, is overseas recruitment still something that care providers can look to, to build sustainable, diverse workforces? 


First of all, it’s worth recapping on what has actually changed.  


The first big change happened quietly in 2023 but is only just beginning to be felt – most overseas students would no longer be able to bring dependants to the UK with them. 


Many of those students and their dependants worked in social care, many were here studying one-year master’s courses.  Many who might have stayed under the GIR visa left feeling they were no longer welcome.  Many who wanted to move to the security of a Skilled Worker Visa found their employer just could not get Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to help them stay.  Many have now returned home. 


Universities have seen applications from international students decline by up to 30%.  Applications from students from South Asia and West Africa – the students most visible in the social care workforce – have more than halved in some places.  Providers in university towns especially have seen an exodus of people they have invested in and now are struggling to replace.   


The changes announced in December went much further.  The headline grabbing change was that from March 2024, carers and senior carers would no longer be able to bring dependants with them to the UK.   At the same time, the minimum income requirement for overseas workers already here would increase.  Even though government rowed back on the original requirement, stepping it up over time, it was a number well beyond many workers in social care. 


The other headline grabber was around salaries.  The Home Secretary announced that an overseas workers coming to the UK would now need to earn much more.  I don’t mind saying this is where I hit pause. 


I gritted my teeth and paced about for a bit expecting the worse then pressed ‘play’.  The Shortage Occupation List would be scrapped.  The list that had allowed employers to recruit overseas at actual market rates, not at a discount as was falsely claimed, would disappear.  It would be replaced by the Immigration Salary List, whatever that was. 


What next?  We’d heard earlier in the day that the new minimum salary would be so high health and social care employers didn’t stand a chance.  Then it came.  The new minimum salary for the Skilled Worker Visa would be £38,700.  Surely not, that would kill overseas recruitment for most occupations.  Where would providers ever find people in the UK for the roles they had? 


Then the reprieve.  Health and social care would not be subject to the new minimum nor would anyone else working on a national pay scale like nurses, doctors, teachers, etc. 


The final change?  The Graduate Immigration Route was to be reviewed.  The outcome of that review is yet to be announced but it poses a further risk to social care employers. 


Then, there are the changes that weren’t announced – the changes providers have felt more keenly perhaps than anything else.  Did you apply for COS in December, January, February…March and get a deafening silence?  You’re not alone. 


Within days of announcing changes to the Immigration Rules, requests for COS (and sponsor licences) were suddenly met with silence.  The usual wait for a few days turned into a wait for weeks.  UKVI said nothing, even when asked, then pressed, by desperate providers.  When they could wait no longer, UKVI asked for more information to support the information.  So much information, it was too much for their website.  So much information, how could they possible review it?  And they needed it quickly.  Very quickly. 


Then what?  Nothing.  Then more nothing.  Providers waited weeks, then months for COS.  Some providers waited just to ‘code’ the COS assigned with their licence.  Had UKVI been told to stop processing requests from social care providers by any means?  It definitely felt that way.


That was until mid-March when 292 pages of changes to the Immigration Rules landed.  Much of it was a semi-colon here, a semi-colon there (effective from 4th April) but mixed in with that was a clear sense of what international recruitment would like, going forward, for social care, including the new Immigration Salary List.  The spoiler?  It’s not over.


If you were skimming this, this is the bit you need to know.  If you’ve read all of this, here’s what you’ve been waiting for! 


It may be because the statistical year ended on 31st of March and there has to be an election before the next statistical year rolls around but what we saw in those 292 pages of changes was surprisingly positive.


As promised, employers can still recruit carers, senior carers, nurses and range of AHPS from overseas.  They can also recruit to these roles are realistic rates of pay.  The going rates for Carers and Senior Carers stand at £11.90/hr.  As does the rate for a nurse.   So, we’re seeing the same small premium over NMW as previously. 


Carers and senior carers are now under new SOC codes – 6135 and 6136.  Important to note when requesting new COS. 


As a provider of course, you will now only be able to recruit from overseas if you are CQC registered. 


The Immigration Salary List was also published for the first time.  It looked a lot like the Shortage Occupation List albeit the salaries are slightly higher, even after the ‘discount’, it still means that providers can access a wide range of skilled people and it goes beyond just the people delivering care too. 


Ignoring the SMS shut down when outstanding COS requests were simply deleted, what we’re now seeing, perhaps most importantly, is providers finally getting the Defined COS that they need and have been waiting for, for months.  Providers in good standing are getting requests for the Defined COS they often in a few days, although requests for larger numbers do seem to be taking a bit longer.  Visas are being processed quickly too.  This is a huge improvement.  Requests for Undefined COS seem still to be taking a long time,  a continuing to cause for uncertainty.


So where does that all leave us?  The government will be able to trumpet huge reductions in net migration just in time for an election and it has clearly tried to give the sense that overseas workers (and students) may not get the warmest of welcomes to the UK.  That will make recruitment more difficult.  Changes to the student visa and dependents rules for care workers are going to have an impact too.  In some areas that will be felt keenly and quickly but the truth is that the door is still open to overseas recruitment if it done well and focuses on skilled, experienced, motivated people.


Overseas recruitment continues to be a way that CQC-registered providers can build sustainable and effective workforces.  Just as importantly, whatever the result of the election, further big changes to the Immigration Rules seem unlikely so providers can plan for the future and know they will be able to turn to overseas recruitment to support future growth and sustainability too. 


If you want an intelligent, strategic discussion about what ethical overseas recruitment could do for you, drop us an email or book an appointment to me directly.

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