The UK Government has been urged to think again on the exclusion of care home workers from a proposed new immigration scheme, with Scotland’s First Minister warning this could have a “devastating impact”.
Nicola Sturgeon said barring social care staff from obtaining a new health and care visa is the “wrong decision”, adding it risks sending a message to workers that their contribution in the Covid-19 pandemic is not appreciated.
Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, has already branded the move a “slap in the face” for the sector.
Some NHS health professionals, including social workers, will be able to apply for a specific health and care visa but this route will not be open to care workers, Downing Street has confirmed.
It is part of UK immigration reforms designed to cut the number of low-skilled migrants entering the country from the beginning of next year.
The plans also aim to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to obtain UK visas.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “We are indebted to overseas health and care professionals for their tremendous contributions, not just in saving thousands of lives throughout this crisis but for the vital role they play year-round.”
With between 6% and 8% of social care workers in Scotland coming from other parts of the EU, Ms Sturgeon spoke about staff who “do us the honour of coming to Scotland from overseas to work”.
She said: “The immigration approach that they are taking, particularly around social care, risks doing huge practical damage to our economy and huge practical damage to sections of our society, like social care.
“But they also risk sending a message that I never want to be sent from Scotland, that we somehow don’t want other people to come, once we are out of this pandemic, from other countries to live and settle here and make a contribution or that somehow we don’t value the contribution that they make.
“Because nothing could be further from the truth. We’re all living under restrictions none of us relish at the moment, but that doesn’t change the fact that Scotland is an open, welcoming country and I think the vast majority of people would want us always to be so and never want to see a message sent from the UK Government that contradicts that in any way.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “In my view, it is essential that care home workers are included in any scheme for post-Brexit work visas.
“The Scottish Government will continue to make strong representations on that point to the UK Government.”
Speaking at her daily briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon argued “excluding social care workers from the ability to apply for a health and care visa to come and work here is sending the wrong message and is sending message that we don’t hugely appreciate the work of those staff”.
The First Minister added: “Donald Macaskill did say it was a slap in the face, that was his terminology, but I don’t think he is wrong that that is the message it risks sending.
“And I would hope the UK Government, who I am sure would not want to send that message, I hope they will reflect on the risk they are running there.”
Her message was echoed by migration minister Ben Macpherson, who said: “The UK Government’s new immigration policy plans fail to address Scotland’s distinct demographic and economic needs, and completely disregard key sectors that we have relied upon during this health pandemic, including our valued social care workers.”
He called on UK Government ministers to meet with representatives from the devolved administrations to “ensure their proposals can be adapted to work for us all”.
Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said while policy is still being “evolved” it is “incredibly important that when take control of our own migration system, that we’re sure that we have a system that works for the whole of the United Kingdom and for all the sectors that are in it”.
He added: “What we’ve got to have is a care home sector where people – many of whom have worked incredibly hard and who have really had an incredibly tough time of it, losing so many of the people that were in their care – they need to be thanked, they need to be rewarded, so I want to see a highly skilled and well-rewarded care home sector going forward.”