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Frontline carers are eligible for work permits from today: six things to bear in mind


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From today, in positive news for the UK’s beleaguered social care sector, frontline care workers are on the Shortage Occupation List, making them eligible to apply for a Skilled Worker permit.

This is a welcome eligibility expansion (previously limited to care roles with senior or managerial elements) but there are some important points to bear in mind from an eligibility and immigration compliance perspective.

1. There’s no getting around the minimum salary level

Being on the shortage list means that the minimum salary requirement for the permit is the lowest permitted for the Skilled Worker route: £20,480 per annum or £10.10 per hour.

Whilst this salary reduction is a positive step, potential sponsors should be mindful that it is the salary alone that can be counted towards this requirement. Benefits such as accommodation for live-in carers cannot form part of that calculation.

This is confirmed by paragraph SW 14.1. and SW 14.2 of Appendix Skilled Worker to the Immigration Rules:

Salary only includes guaranteed basic gross pay (before income tax and including employee pension and national insurance contributions) … Salary does not include other pay and benefits.

2. Carers need to prove they can speak English

The English language requirement is a key element of eligibility and will still be strictly applied.

People with passports from majority English speaking countries will meet the requirement automatically, simply relying on their passports as the appropriate evidence. Majority English speaking countries include many Caribbean countries as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Applicants can also rely on UK secondary school qualifications in English language or literature, such as a GCSE, A-level or Scottish Higher. Alternatively, a degree taught in English with appropriate certification from UK ECCTIS, a commercial partner of the Home Office.

Failing those options, applicants can take a secure English language test. The Home Office is very strict about the type of tests and appropriate providers so it’s important to check the approved providers to make sure the appropriate test is taken at an appropriate location. The test will need to include all four elements (speaking, listening, reading and writing) to the required Level B1.

3. Don’t underestimate the visa costs

The government fees and charges for a Skilled Worker application can be a deterrent. But in this instance, social carers fall under the subcategory of Health and Care within Skilled Worker, meaning that costs are vastly reduced. The headline visa application fee is £464 instead of £1,220, and applicants are exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge (normally £624 per year).

The remaining costs are as follows:

Health and Care permit for up for five years, applying from overseas
Visa application fee£464
Immigration skills charge£1,000
Certificate of sponsorship£199

The immigration skills charge of £1,000 a year is reduced to £364 per year for small or charitable sponsors. The definition of “small” is set out in the Companies Act 2006 to include businesses for which at least two of the following apply:

  1. The annual turnover is £10.2 million or less
  2. Total assets are worth £5.1 million or less
  3. They have 50 employees or fewer

Listeners to the BBC’s Today programme this morning may have heard a social care provider mention a cost of over £50,000 to recruit 18 people from abroad. This is well within the plausible range even for a business paying the reduced rate of skills charge: the visa fees and charges involved for 18 people come to around £45,000, before any legal, agency or other costs.

4. Or the lead-in time

How long it takes to get an application prepared will depend in particular on how the English language requirement will be met: the appropriate evidence must be in place before the application is submitted, meaning that any English test results need to be received and added to the visa application before submission online). It will also be affected by how easily the applicant is able to gather the criminal record check certificates required:

SW 16.1 If the applicant is applying for entry clearance and is being sponsored for a job in any of the occupation codes listed below, they must provide a criminal record certificate from the relevant authority in any country in which they have been present for 12 months or more (whether continuously or in total) in the 10 years before the date of application, and while aged 18 or over:

• 6145 Care workers and home carers

• 6146 Senior care workers

SW 16.2 The requirement in SW 16.1. does not apply if the applicant provides a satisfactory explanation why it is not reasonably practicable for them to obtain a criminal record certificate from any or all of the relevant authorities.

However, once submitted, the Home Office will automatically expedite the application (without needing to pay priority fees). Applications made from within the UK will be considered within three weeks (as opposed to the usual eight weeks) and those from overseas may be considered in as little as five working days.

In addition, a dedicated Home Office email is available to support sponsors: UKVINHSteam@homeoffice.gov.uk.

5. Career progression may mean more paperwork

Successful applicants might work as carers before potentially qualifying into nursing roles, for example. Such career development would necessitate a new Skilled Worker application.

Essentially, whenever a Skilled Worker’s job description and day-to-day responsibilities change to the point that they move from one government job category to another (such as from 6145 Care workers and home carers to 6146 Senior care workers or 2231 Nurses) they will need to make a new Skilled Worker application for permission to stay in the UK — even if they have time left on their existing permit.

From the Home Office’s perspective, this ensures among other things that the applicant meets the minimum salary requirement for their new role, which may be different from the minimum for their old role.

Equally, sponsors must be mindful of their obligations to update the Home Office on any reportable changes to employment details, and the appropriate document retention as part of their broader immigration compliance obligations.

6. The route could lapse after a year, but not individual permits

The policy of allowing frontline carers to get these work permits will be in place for an initial period of 12 months, before further government review.

This does not mean that successful applicants are at risk of having to leave after a year. Even if this policy were reversed after 12 months, any Skilled Worker permits issued during that time will remain valid and in place for their full duration (provided that the applicant continues to work for their sponsor in their prescribed role).

Carers can apply for a permit valid for up to five years in the first instance. At the end of that five-year period, they may be eligible for indefinite leave to remain (settlement).

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Gemma Hyslop

Gemma Hyslop is a Manager and Solicitor in Fragomen’s London office, where she has worked for almost eight years. She is also UK immigration advisor to Talent Beyond Boundaries. Prior to joining Fragomen, Gemma worked at a boutique law firm with an emphasis on family and European law applications, and spent time with a legal aid charity assisting with asylum and human rights-based applications and appeals.