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Lack of flexible EU visas ‘ticking time bomb for UK health and social care’

By Dawn Gibson

Almost 200,000 EU nationals are propping up the UK’s health and social care sectors, according to new official statistics which highlight the extent of the looming skills shortage once the Brexit transition finishes on December 31.

The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) has seized on the figure to warn of the dire impact on staffing levels in these key industries due to limitations on EU visa options.

The number of non-British nationals employed in key worker occupations and industries rose from 826,300 in 2012 to 1,097,100 in 2019, mainly driven by a steady increase in the number of EU nationals working in health and social care, up from 100,200 to 192,300, according to fresh data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) this month.

Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public policy at APSCo, says sectors that rely on EU talent due to a short supply of domestic employees face a real challenge, particularly when recruiting flexible workers. 


“The details published so far on the points-based immigration system provide a disappointing lack of detail around the movement of and access to highly skilled independent professionals across Europe,” Bowers says. “Under the Skilled Worker route, an individual has to have a job offer and be sponsored by a licensed sponsor – an option that isn’t viable for independent professionals seeking to work on multiple projects.”

“The Tier 1 Global Talent visa is also very limited in scope and, as a result, is not suitable for independent professionals,” adds Bowers. “While the document recently shared by the government references a broader unsponsored route within the points-based system which will allow a smaller number of the most highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer, the Home Office has made clear that this will not open from January 1.

“Without a visa route that is geared to attract highly skilled contractors into the UK and, with lucrative opportunities available to these individuals in other countries, few are likely to willingly tackle the UK’s immigration system post-transition. Given the sheer number of EU workers employed in roles that are on the Shortage Occupation List, this potential drop in numbers is concerning to say the least.”


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