By Jemima Johnstone, head of corporate immigration at Gherson Solicitors (www.gherson.com)
For care homes facing staff shortages the UK immigration system offers some solutions, but is by no means a universal panacea. And the solutions do come at a cost – in terms of both time and money.
Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the government introduced a single immigration system to apply to all non-UK and Irish nationals.
For most individuals looking to come to the UK for work that means first obtaining a Skilled Worker visa, which requires them to be sponsored by a UK employer to take up a specific role.
The employer must guarantee the type of role, the salary, and that the candidate has the skills and qualifications to fill it.
The Skilled Worker scheme is not an option for every job. The government has set a minimum skill level for roles that can be sponsored –
RQF Level 3. The assessment is based on the nature of the job that will be done and is shown by the Standard Occupational Classification (or SOC code) of the role.
For the care sector the key roles eligible for sponsorship are Nurses and ‘Senior Care Workers’. The role of ‘Care Worker’ is not considered to be at a sufficient skill level to be sponsored. The distinction between a Senior Care Worker and a Care Worker is not precisely defined by the SOC codes or anywhere in the government’s immigration rules or guid- ance, leaving employer’s to make the assessment.
The government has also set minimum levels for the salary that must be paid to a sponsored worker. These depend on the SOC code of their job, but there is also a baseline annual salary figure and hourly rate for all roles. For Senior Care Workers the requirement will be to pay at least £10.10 an hour and a minimum annual salary of £20,480.
Finally there are criteria that the candidates themselves must meet, including a level of English Language ability. This is met by some nationalities automatically, but applicants from non-English speaking countries – including the EU – may need to sit a secure language test to prove their ability, and this can take time to book and sit.
Sponsoring an employee also comes at a cost to the employer, in terms of money but also time.
The first step for any employer is to obtain a sponsor licence. This will last for four years, and allow them to sponsor potentially an unlimited number of eligible employees. A sponsor licence costs £536 for small companies and charities, or £1,476 for all other organisations.
Visa costs themselves are more significant, though care sector roles will often be eligible for a reduction in fees because they fall under the ‘Health and Care’ visa heading. On average a 3 year visa for a Senior Care Worker will cost c. £1,500 for a small company and £3,500 for a larger company.
An application for a sponsor licence must demonstrate that the company applying is a legally operating UK organisation, that they have a genuine need for a sponsor licence – and will be sponsoring roles that meet the criteria of this visa route. Applicants must also fully understand their obligations and duties as a sponsor and make sure that they have systems and processes in place to deliver these. Applicants show that they meet the criteria by submitting an online form and supporting evidence, and potentially receiving a Home Office assessment visit. Having a licence also brings certain ongoing monitoring and reporting duties, with penalties if these are not met.
Licence applications are standardly processed in 8 weeks, but there is a limited priority service available. Applicants who manage to obtain a priority slot, for a fee of £500, will be assessed in 2 weeks.
Standardly visas take 3 weeks to process, though for Health and Care visas this time is reduced to c.1 week; applicants outside the EU will have to attend a biometric appointment, which can take from days to weeks to book.
With all of the above limitations and costs this may still be the best solution for care homes looking to recruit senior care staff urgently. But to obtain a licence and sponsor individuals by 11th November time is getting extremely tight.
Jemima is experienced in all areas of corporate immigration, from gaining and maintaining Sponsor Licences to recruitment advice and avoiding criminal and civil penalties. Her and her team assist with all issues pertaining to running a business in compliance with current immigration laws and hiring and maintaining migrant workers.