Skip to content
Skip to navigation
Email this page Print this page


The UK’s new immigration rules threatens Scotland’s social care sector and disregards it’s workers

When the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, no one could have predicted the state the world would be in four years later, as we finally come to the end of Brexit negotiations. But COVID-19 has meant that the impacts of these changes, specifically to immigration, have become more prominent.

The UK’s points-based immigration system is set to come into force at the beginning of next year, but these new rules could be disastrous for Scotland’s social care sector.

Palliative care services make up a significant part of the work done by care workers in Scotland, and end of life care is only set to become increasingly important within the social care sector, with a report from last year estimating that social care provision in the community in Scotland needs to grow to support nearly 60% more people at the end-of-life by 2040.

Despite this, in a response to the Immigration Advisory Committee, the Scottish government has recently revealed that the new immigration system could create significant under-staffing issues to the country's social care sector, including palliative care roles.

According to the report, an estimated 16,000 workers from other European countries are employed in health and social care in Scotland, with an additional 10,000 people from other overseas nations. It’s clear then that the social care sector in Scotland is heavily reliant upon foreign workers. However, these same workers are set to be excluded under the new immigration rules.

As part of the UK points-based system, workers must be able to meet a certain salary threshold of at least £25,600 to be classed as “skilled workers” and be eligible for a UK work visa. Many of Scotland’s social care workers would fail to meet the proposed salary requirement, with data from the 2018 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) suggesting that less than 10% of those working in caring and personal service occupations in Scotland earn £25,000.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, foreign workers were at the frontline of the response, working tirelessly in the NHS to save lives. As stories of heroic foreign workers were publicised, it became clear that the government's new immigration rules excluded the very same people who have been sacrificing so much to fight Coronavirus across the country from being eligible for a UK visa. In response to this, the government announced a new Health and Care Visa, intending to make it easier and cheaper for foreign workers to come to the UK to work in the NHS or for an organisation that supports the NHS.

However, the Health and Care Visa fails to include social care workers, even though they too have played a significant role during the pandemic. Scottish ministers are now calling for the government to add social care roles to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) to prevent the sector from suffering.

Ben Macpherson, Minister for Public Finance and Migration, said: “Care professionals from all over the world have played a vital role in caring for our communities during the COVID-19 crisis. It is mind-boggling that the UK Government has introduced a ‘Health and Care visa’, intended to show the UK’s gratitude to frontline workers in these sectors, but that this initiative bizarrely continues to exclude and disregard the huge contribution of social care workers.”

Adding social care roles to the SOL would allow employers to recruit international workers at a lower salary threshold of £20,480 instead. Not including social care roles would have a significant impact because Scotland’s social care sector is already at risk, with staffing issues in many roles. A Scottish Care employer survey from 2018 indicated that 77% of care homes were having recruitment difficulties. The Coronavirus pandemic has only increased this risk, putting more pressure on health and care services. Over the next four years, it is anticipated that demand for health and social care staff will increase with estimates suggesting it could rise by as much as 10,500 more full-time social care staff being required.

And it’s not just the social care sector that is set to face damaging impacts, the Scottish government has expressed its opposition to ending Freedom of Movement, claiming it will significantly damage Scotland’s economy and heighten its demographic issues. A report from February last year, looking at the impact of the UK Government’s Immigration White Paper proposals in Scotland, estimated that migration to Scotland over the next two decades would fall by between 30% and 50%, causing the working-age population to decline by up to 5%.

There is a significant amount of evidence to suggest that the new immigration rules do not recognise the individual needs of Scotland when it comes to immigration. The new requirements put a monetary value on foreign social care workers in Scotland, but the reality is that these workers are invaluable. The impact they have on Scottish communities and lives, particularly during this difficult time, goes above any economic value they may provide to the country. If the government truly wishes to recognise foreign key workers for their efforts during the pandemic, then social care workers must be included in this.

Reanna Smith is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service, a team of professional immigration lawyers dedicated to helping foreign nationals wishing to come to the UK.

More in your region
Loading ...