Professional Comment

How Can Care Managers Navigate New Immigration Rules?

By Carolyn Bowie, principal associate in the business immigration team at national law firm Weightmans (

The past four months have brought a series of significant changes to UK immigration law – developments that will have a direct impact on overseas workers within the UK care sector, and for the businesses employing them.

Here, we explore some of the recent changes and discuss the steps care sector management should be considering now to ensure their businesses remain compliant with the law to effectively support their workforce.

Dependent rules: removing the ability to bring spouses and children
The immigration development that will perhaps have the largest impact is a tightening of the rules around who overseas care workers can bring to live in the UK with them.

As of March, new migrant care workers and senior care workers (occupation codes 6135 and 6136) are no longer allowed to bring dependents – their partners or their children – on their visa. This won’t apply to those who were in the route before 11 March 2024 – they can still apply for their partners or their children to join them.

As well as considering how this may affect their ability to meet their ongoing staffing needs, care sector businesses will need to be mindful of the potential impact on workers who choose to still work in the UK sponsored under these occupation codes. The fact that they may be separated from support – such as a spouse – may increase their financial vulnerability in the UK, and have a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

This is an issue that sector businesses must take seriously. Employers have a legal duty of care to their staff that requires them to do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing, and mental health is just as important as physical health in this regard.

In certain cases, poor mental health may be considered a disability under the Equality Act, which would require employers to make reasonable adjustments for the worker in question.

But beyond their legal obligations, creating a supportive, compassionate, environment is simply the right thing to do. Management teams should be taking the opportunity now to review the systems they have in place for spotting signs of vulnerability or poor mental health, and what resources they have available to help affected staff. Here, they may benefit from specialist external help – such as mental health professionals and/or legal specialists in this area – or delivering training for their teams, particularly those with line management responsibilities.

Increasing the cost of non-compliance
Two further changes are also now in force that increase immigration compliance responsibilities, and potential cost of breaches, for care organisations.

As of February, any business that is found to have employed an individual without the appropriate immigration permission in the UK may pay a penalty up to £15,000 per person found to be employed unlawfully for a first offence, triple the previous fine.

For repeat breaches, the penalty has also risen three-fold: climbing from £20,000 to £60,000 per person.

This makes it even more important that care sector businesses have the right procedures in place to ensure their compliance with relevant employment and right to work legislation.

This might include regular audits of records or conducting internal ‘spot checks’ to ensure that a business is consistently complying with its duties as a sponsor of an overseas worker.

Companies should also make sure that the responsibility for compliance is a ‘whole business’ effort – shared across staff, and not just its most senior members. As with mental health support, care businesses may benefit from giving line managers – those who are perhaps closest to day-to-day operations – specific training on sponsor duties, so they can flag any instances where a worker may not be working in a legal capacity, for example, taking unauthorised leave, or working in a role outside of their visa’s scope. These are all easy areas to miss if you are not aware of the compliance pitfalls.

Additionally, as of March, care providers in England are unable to sponsor new care workers under the Skilled Worker route, unless they are registered with the Care Quality Commission (“CQC”).

This could have a significant impact on care sector business’ recruitment strategies, if – until now – they relied on overseas staff, and are not a business providing ‘regulated activities’, and therefore have not required CQC registration.

These firms now face a choice: to try and source the staff they need elsewhere, or to proceed with CQC registration.

The latter route can be a lengthy and resource-intensive process. If this is an option that firms are considering, or feel they need to pursue, it’s advised they seek advice from legal experts specialising in healthcare to help minimise delays and cost.

The road ahead
In a general election year, it remains to be seen what further changes to immigration policy could be on the horizon.

For now, care sector businesses should make sure they are fully abreast of recent developments, and that they bolster and safeguard compliance protocols in their business to effectively support their staff.

In a sector with a near 10% vacancy rate, many businesses are likely to continue to view immigration as an important avenue for meeting their staffing needs.

The right approach can ensure that businesses maximise their chances of fulfilling these requirements in line with the law, and of creating a safe, responsible, working environment that helps both attract and retain all staff.