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Lords Committee voices concerns on care sector impact of health and social care visa restriction

7 March 2024

In its 16th Report of Session 23-24, the cross-party House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has highlighted concerns in the care sector about the Government’s plans to restrict health and social care visas under changes to immigration rules. The Committee has called on the Government to provide more information about the effect of these changes which took effect in February 2024. The report comes after the Committee considered the Home Office’s latest Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (HC 556) (the Statement).

The changes remove the provision for most dependants to accompany or join workers coming to the UK to work in the health and care sectors. The Statement also narrows the range of jobs in England for which migrant workers can be sponsored, reducing it from all posts in the care sector to only those where the sponsor is registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The Home Office told the Committee that the measures banning dependants from joining migrant workers would reduce the number of dependants coming to the UK by 120,000 per year but would have no effect on the numbers of workers themselves. The reasons provided by the Department to support this assertion included the fact that there was already a high level of global labour supply; that workers were seeking to come to the UK without their dependants; and that there was a reduction in demand because of the CQC policy change. However, no evidence was provided by the Department in support of these claims.

In addition, the Home Office did not conduct a consultation before introducing these changes. The lack of such a step meant that any benefits from gathering the views of those in the care sector and the general public as to the potential impact of the changes was lost. The Home Office told the Committee that the lack of consultation was to avoid publicising the change to avoid a possible surge in last minute applications before they took effect. However,it is hard to reconcile this argument because the changes had already been announced in Parliament in December 2023, which was likely to have attracted as much attention as any consultation exercise.

The Statement also includes a separate set of policies that alters the schemes that allow those fleeing the war in Ukraine to enter the UK. These changes also suffered from poor supporting material, meaning that explanations of the policy, its context or its rationale were inadequate or unconvincing.

The Committee is aware of significant concern in the social care sector about the effects of the health and social care visa changes and has therefore written to the Home Office to seek further information and clarification on the concerns raised. The correspondence will be published in a future report.

In conclusion, the report draws the Statement to the special attention of the House on the ground that the explanatory material laid in support provides insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the instrument’s policy objective and intended implementation.

Baroness Randerson, Member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, said:

“We recognise that these changes are intended to address concerns about levels of legal migration. However, there is alarm among social care providers about the impact of these changes: the care sector is already struggling to recruit sufficient workers and is worried these measures could make things worse.

“The Government says that the dependant ban will not reduce the number of immigrant workers, but it has not provided evidence to back this up. This means it is impossible for Parliament to assess the effects of the changes properly and the sector is also left in the dark.

“Whenever the Government lays legislation which has the potential to affect the effectiveness of a sector and has real world consequences for the public at large, it must provide information on the impact. This is a principle the Government has accepted but does not always observe in practice and we are writing to the Home Office to ask for further details.

“We will continue to highlight examples where departments fall short of their obligations to provide information to Parliament and the public thereby hindering our ability to effectively scrutinise secondary legislation”.