Great Britain

UK's new fast-track immigration system to exclude care workers

The government has set out further details of its post-Brexit immigration system, which will now include a fast-track arrangement for health workers, although care staff will not be eligible, and the same minimum salary thresholds remain in place.

The 130-page paper, which was published by the Home Office on Monday, also sets out the stringent English-language conditions for overseas nationals from both EU and non-EU countries seeking to come and work in the UK.

It additionally describes a robust-sounding expulsion regime in which EU nationals could be expelled if they are jailed even for less than a year, and details a “global talent” route for entrants, by which arrivals can be officially endorsed by scientific or arts organisations.

The basis of the new, points-based system, which will close UK borders to lower-paid workers or those who cannot speak English after the country leaves the EU, was initially set out in February, before the peak of the coronavirus crisis focused attention on the work of NHS and care staff, many of whom are from overseas.

The new document says the government “welcomes the vital contributions which doctors, nurses and other health professionals from overseas make to the NHS and wider health and care sector”, and outlines a special visa for skilled workers.

This will include fast-track entry under what is called a “health and care visa” with “reduced” application fees and dedicated support to assist those applying and their families. But despite the name, the list of professions who can use the visa, in an appendix of the document, does not cover care staff.

All applicants must also meet minimum salary requirements. The general minimum threshold for a skilled workers is £25,600, although this falls to £20,480 both for people near the start of their careers, and for some people in the health and education sectors.

This would represent an additional barrier to many care workers, given average salaries in the sector are about £16,500 a year. It also remains to be seen how much such people will need to pay in fees.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Boris Johnson said he did not think the changes would overly affect the care sector.

“Although of course we are going to be taking back control and we are controlling our immigration system we’re not going to be simply slamming the gates and stopping anybody anywhere coming into this country,” he said.

“Where people can contribute to this country, where people want to make their lives and do great things for this country, of course we’re going to have a humane and sensible system.”

The new system has prompted warnings not just about a lack of NHS and care staff, but also seasonal farm workers. Arrangements have been made for seasonal harvest workers, but below levels the National Farmers’ Union has said is needed.

The updated immigration document gives no new details on this, saying the sector will be reassessed at the end of this year after the end of a pilot scheme.

The Home Office has also unveiled the first details of stringent English language test that will apply to all immigrants.

The government revealed in February that it would be closing the borders to those who could not speak English, adding to fears ithis would bring an end to cheaper EU labour in factories, warehouses and farming where fluency was not a key priority for employers.

In future, immigrants will have to demonstrate language competency by showing they have “passed a secure English language test” or that they “meet the required level in a previous successful immigration application”.

Students will have to demonstrate they had A-level or equivalent English while skilled workers will have to have AS level or equivalent.

The document also gives the first details of the government’s “global talent” route, which willbe led by an Office for Talent based inside No 10.

The system will encourage the arrival of not just scientists and engineers, but also leading workers in the humanities and arts. Would-be arrivals can be processed rapidly if their application is endorsed by bodies such as the the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, or Arts Council England.

On deportation, the paper outlines what it calls a robust and consistent approach for people both from the EU and elsewhere.

Now, also EU nationals jailed for a year or more are considered for deportation, and possibly for shorter jail terms if they are serious or persistent criminals. This only applies for sentences imposed after the end of this year.

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