The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has put forward some reccomendations to combat the skills crisis in the health and care sectors — but are these enough? Alexandra Jarvis investigates.
The UK’s Shortage Occupation List (SOL) has been in desperate need of a revamp for some time, making the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) recommendations for amendments extremely welcome. The MAC’s review, published this May, is a result of escalating demand from health and care professionals that worrying staff shortages within their fields is a very real, immediate threat.
The healthcare sector could celebrate roles as defined under the ‘medical practitioner’ and ‘nurse’ category being extended should the MAC’s recommendations be implemented.
What do these potential changes mean?
The SOL is designed to inspire overseas professionals to move to the UK and increase staffing amongst areas which the UK is unable to fill with ‘domestic talent’ (British and European) alone. A role on the SOL means individuals not from the European Economic Area (EEA) do not need to adhere to certain visa restrictions, giving them some allowances in order to make a potential migration to the UK more attractive. These individuals must apply for a Work Visa but the process is designed to be easier in order to fulfil quotas in professions which are in shortage.
An example of a specific allowance afforded to these potential migrants is the dismissing of the minimum salary requirement (£30,000 per annum) which is something all Tier 2 Work Visa applicants must satisfy in order to be successful for the visa. Roles on the list are advertised with a suitable minimum salary, based on the profession’s average remuneration in the UK market.
This is where healthcare has been suffering as a significant number of roles within the field require the Tier 2 Work Visa, often standing as a barrier to potential overseas workers who cannot apply. Statistics show that the average salary for a registered UK nurse is £23,000, substantially less than the required income.
It is even worse for care workers; their median annual salary comes in at £16,623, no chance of meeting the £30,000 minimum salary starting point for a Skilled Work Visa.
Applicants for roles on the SOL also pay less visa fees in comparison to applicants applying for roles that have not been specified as in shortage. The most common work visa is the three-year Tier 2 Work Visa with fees setting an applicant back a hefty £610, not to mention an extra £610 per every dependant whether child or partner. Whilst hardly cheap, the fees for a job listed on the SOL will cost a single overseas applicant £464 (and an extra £464 for each dependant if applicable).
Reviewing these benefits, there’s no doubt the addition of all jobs under the medical practitioner, health worker and nurse categories is the correct way forward, paving way for migrant professionals to join the UK much more easily. It’s clear this move would relieve the NHS and healthcare industry of many pressures regarding low staffing and strained resources.
Will this help?
The MAC’s recommendations will certainly provide the healthcare workforce with the staffing it needs and take the pressure off overworked, under resourced staff with new professionals joining the field. Sadly, this could be a short-term fix rather than a long term one, with the report stating the SOL could face extinction post-Brexit, with free movement laws no longer in effect.
As things stand, with Britain still currently in the EU, an individual from the EEA has the right to work in the UK in any role without a time limit under the free movement laws. Once this comes to an end, which it will if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal or in a ‘hard-deal’ Brexit, the health and social care labour force will experience extremely worrying labour shortages.
Statistics from Skills for Care show approximately 104,000 of the care sector’s workers coming from the EU.
Most of the Brexit plans which are still on the table state the EU care professionals will be assessed in the same way as non-EEA migrants are when it comes to applying for visas. This will mean all applicants, including these EEA applicants, will need to pay extortionate visa application and extensions fees not only for themselves but also for any dependant child or spouse visa application.
Looking at the average salaries of many healthcare professionals, it is obvious the high visa application fees will be impossible for the majority of potential workers to afford. It will come as no surprise that the industry will see a dramatic decrease of European care professionals in this case, many of whom will choose to take up work in neighbouring EU countries, where they are not subject to fees or restrictions for themselves and their families.
What about the future?
Public service budget cuts in the UK have been drastic, with an eye-watering 40% cut in the last ten years.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said to account for the deficit thanks to Brexit expenditure, currently a shocking £20-40 billion, even further cuts will be made with an estimated £48 million slashed by 2030.
Lack of funding in the care sector especially has been a major issue. The political enforcement of austerity has hit the care industry hard with certain local areas having their social care budgets cut by two-thirds. The result of this – limited, stretched to breaking point resources, staff and patients – cannot be stressed enough.
Reviewing the obstacles of high visa fees and restricted movement of people, it does not look hopeful that EU nationals will be inspired to move to the UK and assist with the care industry’s staffing shortages, presently in deficit of 90,000 workers according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The Government must act and implement immediate, robust measures to ensure the care industry doesn’t sink in post-Brexit chaos.