Over the past six months, Brexit has taken a back-seat as the COVID-19 pandemic quickly became the country’s top concern. But with lessons learnt from this difficult time, and less than six months until the newly proposed immigration rules are set to be put into force, it’s time to consider just what they could mean for Scotland. Unfortunately, the answers not good.
In their response to the Immigration Advisory Committee, the Scottish government recently revealed that the new points-based immigration system could be particularly devastating for Scotland’s social care sector, which was at the forefront of the country’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic, with 45% of COVID deaths in Scotland happening in care homes.
It’s clear then that now more than ever, the Scottish social care sector, which supports more than 200,000 people, is absolutely vital to the country. So, a system set to damage this important sector should be of top concern.
The Scottish social care sector is already facing a crisis, with serious understaffing issues. A Scottish Care employer survey from 2018 indicated that 77% of care homes were having recruitment difficulties. The Coronavirus pandemic has only increased this risk, putting more pressure on health and care services. Over the next four years, it’s anticipated that demand for health and social care staff will increase with estimates suggesting it could rise by as much as 10,500 more full-time social care staff being required.
The care sector can’t afford to lose any more staff, but with 16,000 workers from other European countries employed in health and social care in Scotland, and an additional 10,00 people from other overseas nations, the new immigration system could mean significant losses.
Under the new points-based system, workers must be able to meet a certain salary threshold to be classed as “skilled workers” and be eligible for a Tier 2 Work Visa. Many of Scotland’s social care workers would fail to meet the proposed £25,600 salary requirement, with data from the 2018 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) suggesting that less than 10% of those working in caring and personal service occupations in Scotland earn £25,000.
When COVID-19 reached the UK, it was clear that those most important to our society weren’t just those earning high wages. The government released a list of “key worker” roles, containing jobs that they recognised as being significant in the fight against the pandemic. Ironically, many roles on that list didn’t come under the minimum salary requirement to be classed as a “skilled worker” by the new points-based system.
After pressure to correct this misjudgement, the government recently launched a new Health and Care Visa, intending to make it easier for foreign workers to work in the UK healthcare sector. This new type of visa is cheaper and faster to obtain than other work visas. However, social care roles are not included on this visa.
Due to this, Ben Macpherson, Minister for Public Finance and Migration has called for the government to add social care roles to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), he said: “The Scottish Government is clear – we greatly value the skills and contributions of all people who come and settle in Scotland. Inward migration enriches our society for the better and migrants make a net contribution to our economy, our public services, and our public finances. Family migration also contributes positively to our demography, and the sustainability of rural and remote communities.”
Adding social care roles to the SOL would allow employers to recruit international workers at a lower salary threshold of £20,480 instead.
The new immigration rules could be disastrous for Scotland in particular because they fail to take the country’s individual immigration needs into account. A report from February last year, looking at the impact of the UK Government’s Immigration White Paper proposals in Scotland, estimated that migration to Scotland over the next two decades would fall by between 30% and 50%, causing the working-age population to decline by up to 5%. This demographic problem is an issue unique to Scotland, with other areas of the UK not estimated to face a decline in the working-age population.
Although adding social care roles to the SOL would reduce the financial requirements for non-UK nationals to work in the care sector, it still puts a monetary value on something priceless. The work that is done by foreign nationals in the Scottish social care sector, from caring for the elderly to helping those with disabilities, mental health problems, and drug and alcohol problems, is incredibly important.
The impact these workers have on Scottish society greatly outweighs any economic impact they could ever have. The Scottish government must continue to fight for the right for non-UK social care workers to come to Scotland, not only because the country needs them, but because they are owed the continued recognition for their contribution during this unprecedented pandemic.
Reanna Smith writes for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of lawyers committed to the goal of accessible and professional immigration and asylum advice for everyone.