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‘Ban on dependants will allow more manageable approach to care recruitment’

Tom Pursglove said new measures on overseas care workers will lead to a ‘more manageable approach’ to recruitment and migration (Richard Townshend/UK Parliament/PA)
Tom Pursglove said new measures on overseas care workers will lead to a ‘more manageable approach’ to recruitment and migration (Richard Townshend/UK Parliament/PA)

Banning overseas care workers from bringing loved ones to the UK will ensure a “more manageable approach” to staffing the sector, a minister has said.

The new rules will come into effect from March 11, the Government has announced, as part of a package of other measures aimed at tackling “unsustainable and unfair levels of migration”.

Care sector providers previously told how they were “blindsided” when the changes were first revealed in December, with Care England warning it has “grave concerns” the move could drive people from a sector which has relied on overseas workers for some time.

Legal migration minister Tom Pursglove said he believes the existing needs will be able to be met through continued overseas recruitment of people with no dependants alongside boosting the domestic workforce.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Pursglove said: “I think the point I would make is that there will still be opportunities for people to come and take on social care roles in the UK on the back of the changes that we are making, but we are doing this in a more proportionate way.”

The Government has previously said that approximately 120,000 dependants accompanied 100,000 care workers and senior care workers in the year ending September 2023.

Mr Pursglove said these numbers are “disproportionate” and “undoubtedly of concern”.

He added: “We need to have a more manageable approach to this.”

A report from Skills for Care last summer noted the vacancy rate in social care was at about 9.9% – around 152,000 vacancies on any given day – and providers have stated that overseas workers have been crucial to their staffing.

Skills for Care, which is the strategic workforce development and planning body for adult social care in England, said it does not take a view on whether international recruitment is the right policy choice but insisted that if it is cut, more must be done on building a domestic workforce.

As part of efforts to address that, earlier this month the Government announced new qualifications and investment in apprenticeships in a bid to change perceptions of jobs in the sector.

The Unison union, which represents many care workers, said while career paths and qualifications “might sound impressive”, they “won’t change a thing unless the minimum wage stops being the norm in care”.

The union’s head of social Gavin Edwards said: “Care companies couldn’t function without migrant care workers. Firms have to recruit from overseas because the Government’s done nothing to solve the care staffing crisis.

“Ministers’ reckless changes to immigration policy spell disaster for social care. Until pay rates rise substantially, there’ll never be enough UK-based recruits to plug the huge hole in the care workforce.”

Asked about better pay, Mr Pursglove said it is “absolutely critical that people are paid properly for the work that they do” but deferred to the Department of Health and Social Care on the issue of wages.

He said: “We do now need to focus more of our efforts, more of our energies on that domestic employment side and, as I say, I think that paying people properly for those roles is clearly an important part of that.”

On boosting domestic recruitment, he said providers must engage with “comprehensive employment support” from Government in order to help with recruitment and retention.

He added: “I think by doing that in a joined-up, co-ordinated way, we will be able to meet those needs that exist to make sure that people get good quality care in the way that I think anybody would want to see for their loved ones, friends, family and relatives.”

Social care minister Helen Whately said while she is “grateful” for the contribution of overseas care workers, she is also “clear that immigration is not the long-term answer to our social care needs”.

In a statement announcing the timetable for changes, she said: “Alongside tightening visa rules we’re reforming social care careers to boost our homegrown care workforce.

“We have launched the first-ever national career path for care workers and a new care qualification is on the way.

“These reforms, together with international recruitment under the new rules, will build on the progress made over the last year – of lower staff turnover, fewer vacancies and more people working in social care”.

The Office for National Statistics, in figures published in November, said health and care visas were the most common type of work visa on which dependants came to the UK, adding that this was driving the increase in immigration of those on work dependant visas.

The Government has said its new measures will also tackle abuse of these visas, with rules to ensure care providers in England can only sponsor migrant workers if they are undertaking activities regulated by the watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The Government has said immigration rules will be laid in Parliament on February 19, to bring the new measures into force from March 11.