Health and care visa sponsors may face further restrictions on visa sponsorship

Health & Care sponsors what to expect – Campaigners are calling for improved minimum standards for Care Sector visa sponsors

According to the recently published article in the Guardian dated 3rd March 2024 ‘Campaigners are calling for improved minimum standards for visa sponsors, including a requirement for providers to be operating for at least two years before being allowed licences, and a requirement for them to have been inspected recently by the CQC. They say it is not enough for firms to simply be registered with the CQC, because newly registered providers are not always inspected straight away.’

The Campaigners also criticised a government plan to scrap the need for sponsors to apply to renew their licences, which will come into effect in early April 2024. They claim that such move from Home Office removes the important scrutiny on the sponsors that was applied at the extension stage.

The critics of the current sponsorship system say that ‘companies were granted a sponsor licence despite its online profiles stating it is a health and social care recruitment agency, which is against the Home Office rules saying employment agencies are not eligible to sponsor healthcare workers.’ You may also check this on the publicly available sponsor licence register. For more information on this topic we refer you to our blog on the recruitment agencies immigration sponsorship.

In the same Guardian article it further says that ‘In an unpublished report leaked to the Times last month (February 2024), former independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Neal found that lax oversight was leading to egregious abuses of the sponsor licence system, including one case where the Home Office issued 275 visas to a care home that didn’t exist.’

Furthermore, the Guardian article refers to ‘Reports of exploitation in the care sector have also soared, with more than 10 times as many potential victims in 2022 as in 2021, according to the charity Unseen UK. Cases include workers being trapped by “repayment clauses”, given false promises, forced to live in squalor, and charged illegal recruitment fees. ‘

UK immigration update -  Health and Care visa

Sponsor licence sponsorship compliance duties and obligations

Sponsor compliance with sponsorship duties and obligations it is one of the key aspects of UK immigration system where the sponsor employers have a duty to act in accordance with all the immigration laws and other laws applicable in the UK. We refer the reader to our blog dated 9th January 2024 on Care Sector sponsorship compliance.

According to the recently published data, in 2023 the Home Office revoked 337 licences and suspended a further 569, up from 331 suspensions and 273 revocations the year before.

What next for care sector visa sponsors – potential new limitations

 In light of the various publicly reported abuses of the Home Office rules in the adult social care sector, the Home Office may look for further restrictions on sponsor employers similar to those suggested by the Campaigners (see above).  

According to the Guardian article, ‘The Home Office said it was strengthening oversight of the sponsor licence system in the care sector to address “significant concerns about high levels of non-compliance, worker exploitation and abuse”.

Home Office already announced that as of 11th March 2024, care providers in England will only be able to sponsor migrant workers if they are registered with the CQC. Mandatory CQC regulation gives some layer of control over the care sector employers and this is why the Home Office added it as a mandatory requirement.

On a positive note, MAC’s Rapid Review published on 23rd February 2024 provides justification for including care worker occupations on the ISL in this interim review but will be revisiting this position as part of a fuller ISL review. In making care workers eligible in 2022 MAC recognised the very considerable public benefit that is provided by the social care sector, over and above its economic contribution. However, MAC remain concerned with the low pay that continues to be embedded further within the sector and are disappointed that the government have failed to respond to MAC 2022 review of the adult social care sector almost 2 years after publication.

Key statistics for UK Work visas granted in 2023

On 29th February 2024 immigration data for the year ending December 2023 have been published. The data reveal the 91% increase in Health and Care visa granted in 2023 comparing to the year 2022. The grants for dependants increased by 81% in 2023 comparing to the year 2022 and dependants in the Health and Care route account for 73% of all work dependent visas.

Key statistics for UK Work visas granted in 2023:

  • there were 337,240 work visas granted to main applicants in 2023, 26% higher than in 2022, and almost two and half times more than prior to the pandemic in 2019
  • while ‘Skilled Worker’ visas have remained consistent in the past year (-1%), ‘Skilled Worker – Health and Care’ visa grants have almost doubled (+91%) to 146,477, largely driven by ‘Care workers and home carers’, representing 89,236 grants in 2023
  • there were 279,131 grants to dependants of people who had been granted a work visa, 80% higher than 2022; this was due to the increase in the ‘Health and Care’ worker route – dependants on this route accounted for 73% of all work dependent visas granted

The changes to Health and Care and Skilled Worker visa from March 2024 and April 2024

Following the high net migration figures, UK government has been looking for ways to decrease the net migration for some time now. This has resulted in a number of changes to the Immigration Rules during the previous year 2023 and the current year 2024. We write about the upcoming changes to the Health and Care visa and Skilled Worker visa in our blog dated 19th February 2024.

The changes to Health and Care visa relating to no dependent family members permitted and requirement to for sponsor employers in England to be registered with Care Quality Commission shall take effect on 11 March 2024. In relation to those changes, if an application for entry clearance, leave to enter or leave to remain, has been made before 11 March 2024, such applications will be decided in accordance with the rules in force on 10 March 2024.

A new increase to the minimum salary required for those arriving on the Skilled Worker visa from £26,200 to £38,700, are due to take effect on 4 April 2024.  

As the MAC recommended in October 2023, Home Office will remove the 20% going rate discount for occupations on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), which will be renamed the Immigration Salary List (ISL). The ISL will also be introduced from April 2024. We write about the newly published MAC Rapid SOL Review in our blog dated 27th February 2024.

Leave a Comment