As Home Secretary John Reid ponders over whether or not to admit thousands of Romanian and Bulgarian workers next year, we ask what the Government is doing to help the private care sector to solve continuing staff shortages.
Last week, in a reaction to mounting public anxiety over immigration, Mr Reid has effectively called for official limits on the numbers coming into Britain. He hinted that a new body could be set up to advise the government on “optimum levels of immigration” consistent with the country’s economic needs and “social stability”.
This is a major shift in policy by a government which previously welcomed immigration and talked of the “economic benefits” migrants bring to Britain.
The announcement follows news of a leaked Home Office report revealing deep concerns over the rising numbers of immigrants coming in from new EU countries in Eastern Europe.
“People recognise that others from outside this country can bring great skills here, but they also want to be assured that our services, whether it’s schools or hospitals, and indeed their own terms and conditions, will be preserved and immigration will be managed,” Reid said on a news discussion program on the BBC.
John Reid is widely expected to impose restrictions on ‘free movement of labour’ from Romania and Bulgaria, following the large migration of workers from Eastern Europe since 2004. Britain was one of only three countries to allow people from the 10 new member states to migrate.
Original estimates of 13000 new arrivals in the first year were probably exceeded in the first week and the numbers have since risen to over 600,000 prompting fears that we are being overrun. The vast majority of the new arrivals are in full time work.
In a BBC interview yesterday Home Office Minister Tony McNulty admitted that the Government had been “in the dark” when it estimated how many workers would come to the UK from the expanded EU.
Whilst the care industry may have benefited from the increased availability of labour from countries like Poland and Latvia, many employers have reported that the benefits have been short lived as they freely move from job to job. Workers from the new EU member states do not need work permits and have the same choices as the resident workforce. In other words they can also opt for an easier life working for Tesco.
“Eastern European workers have not solved our staffing problems” Home Owner
Other care home owners and managers have also told me that Polish and other Eastern European workers have not solved their staffing problems. A care home owner who preferred not to be named told me that the Polish carers he recruited do not stay in the job very long.
“We put a lot of time and effort into the recruitment, training and induction process, as well as helping them get settled, only to find that as soon as they’ve got their bearings they’re off to find higher paid jobs”.
To make matters worse, the Government are constantly making life difficult for anyone trying to bring in staff from outside the EU. Even renewing a work permit has become a minefield where one wrong move can lead to disastrous consequences.
We have recently taken over an immigration case where a new care home owner applied for a work permit extension for a Senior Carer from the Philippines. The Home Office refused the application due to a mistake on the job title and will not change their decision. The applicant’s visa was about to expire and had we not rescued the situation she would have been sent home along with her husband a son.
It beggars belief that the very people this country needs to attract, skilled people willing and able to do the jobs nobody else seems to want to do, are being victimised and run out of the country.
Employers are also in for a tougher time and will soon be required to take on more responsibility for their overseas staff and face sanctions and heavy fines if things go wrong. See www.immigrationmatters.co.uk.
Other sectors, like the catering industry, are also suffering from staff shortages. However, unlike restaurants or hotels, care homes face the ultimate threat closure if they fail to meet strict staffing criteria. Dame Denise Platt, Chair of the CSCI, has warned that “staff shortages are putting patients at risk”.
The Government seems to base their immigration decisions solely on the needs of the NHS
The Government recently decided that the NHS has sufficient numbers of ‘home grown’ Nurses, and brought in sweeping changes completely ignoring the needs of the private sector.
General Nurses, (the ones most needed in Care Homes) were taken off the “official” shortage list on 14th August, despite the fact that Nurses are still in short supply in the private sector. Employers will now have to go through the resident labour test in order to obtain a work permit for an overseas nurse.
I carried out a quick search on the Job Centre Plus website today and found 2144 nursing vacancies for jobs paying up to £24000 per annum. The Nursing Times website boasts “Thousands of UK Nursing Jobs” and I dare say that local newspapers all over the UK carry dozens of Care Home’s advertisements for Nursing jobs.
There are also over 7000 vacancies for Care Assistants listed on the Job Centre site and yet the Government still refuses to acknowledge that it should be listed a shortage occupation.
Senior Carer work permits have become more difficult to obtain in recent years and visas for work permit holders are regularly refused. This Monday I attended yet another hearing at the appeals tribunal (AIT) to help fight the case of a Senior Carer wrongfully refused a visa by the British Embassy in Manila. Fortunately the judge agreed with us and allowed the appeal on the spot.
The NHS may not have a staff shortage, but the private sector still finds it difficult to recruit good quality staff locally and has no choice but to look overseas.
In my experience, the only place where you will find large numbers of highly qualified English speaking care staff, who will stay for the long run, is in countries like India and The Philippines.
Employers must be allowed to choose where best to find the staff they need to give them and their resident’s longer term stability.
For regular immigration updates see www.immigrationmatters.co.uk
If you should have any questions concerning any of the above issues or require advice on work permits, visas and other immigration matters please email Charles Kelly firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join me at the Care Show
Charles Kelly will be speaking at the Care Show (NEC 25th October) on: “Are You Employing Staff Illegally?” and would look forward to meeting you on the ‘Guide2Care’ stand. Charles Kelly and Cynthia Barker will be signing copies of their book, How 2 Come to the UK.