As Eastern European workers return home in droves, how will the care sector recruit sufficient numbers of staff to fill their vacancies for care workers, which are already on the Government’s official Shortage Occupations list?
Immigration figures released by the Home Office this week show that last year the total number of ‘A8’ citizens coming to Britain from the former Eastern Bloc states dropped by more than a quarter from 109,000 to 79,000.
But the numbers heading back to their homelands more than doubled, from 25,000 to 66,000.
The trend, which follows a combination of a tightening of low skilled jobs, a falling pound and booming economies back home, helped drive down net immigration to 118,000, a drop of 44 per cent and the lowest since the EU expansion five years ago.
Karen Dunnell, the Government’s chief statistician, said the figures were likely to be due to the economic downturn.
She said: ‘You have to say that probably unemployment and the economic situation, given that quite a lot from the A8 countries are coming to work, is probably having an impact.’
An estimated one million people have flocked to the UK since Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the EU in 2004.
The Government faced severe criticism at the time for opting to give all new EU citizens free access to UK labour markets, while other major countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain imposed strict curbs.
Migrant workers from Eastern Europe have always been more transient than their Asian or African counterparts.
For this reason the Government should continue to keep the door open to non EU skilled migrant workers.
Whilst the catering and building industries have attracted large numbers of Polish and other Eastern European workers, the care sector still struggles to attract and retain EU and resident workers.
In order to recruit staff from outside the UK employers must register as Sponsors under Tier 2 of the Points based system.
Under Tier 2, employer sponsors effectively have the power to issue a Sponsorship Certificate (which replaced the old Work Permits last November), to an overseas migrant worker before the information is verified by a UK Border Agency case worker.
But a Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship from an employer does not guarantee you a working visa, and getting through the process is not as simple as it first appears.
The high £7.80 minimum salary level imposed by the UK Border Agency is another bar to employing non EU workers.
However, the Government did follow the independent Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation that the qualification threshold for overseas Social Care Workers be changed to NQF Level 2, the relevant experience reduced to just two years and the minimum salary cut from £8.80 to £7.80.
Despite the cut, the revised minimum salary level still remains far too high for many employers.
Evelie Padadac of Immigration Adviser’s Bison UK said:
“I have already been advising clients about this shortage occupation list for Care Assistants, but the difficulty is that most employers are not willing or able to pay £7.80 per hour”.
The introduction of the points-based system has already seen a reduction in the number of skilled workers from outside Europe coming to Britain from 69,000 through the old work permit route in 2008 to an estimated 50,000 this year.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which reports to the Government on employment trends, recently published a report on the points system.
It is widely expected that the recommended changes put forward by MAC will slash the annual flow of 50,000 skilled non-EU migrants into Britain.
The committee’s Chairman, Professor David Metcalf, said the points-based immigration system should act as an “automatic stabiliser and not be constantly adjusted in response to the economic cycle”.
He added that the changes they were proposing would be put forward regardless of whether there was rising unemployment. “They are not a knee-jerk reaction to the recession,” he said.
Whilst immigration is still a political ‘hot potato’, the Government must not forget that independent care homes still depend heavily on Filipino, Indian and African workers, many on student visas, to look after their vulnerable residents.
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