IMMIGRATION rules are to be eased for care workers in a bid to fill vital gaps. 

Social care workers, care assistants and home care workers will be added to the shortage occupation, the UK Government has announced. 

They will be eligible for the health and care visa for a 12 month period. 

The temporary measures are expected to come into effect early next year and will be reviewed after 12 months. 

The announcement comes after campaigners last year accused the Government of excluding care workers from its new immigration system and ignoring the role they have played during the coronavirus pandemic.

Staff shortages within the social care sector are placing huge pressures on the existing workforce. 

Scottish Care CEO Dr Donald Macaskill said the news was "positive" but falls "far short" of an open free system.

He urged the Home Office to collaborate with care providers to make the new changes work.

The decision follows a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) that the jobs be made eligible for the health and care visa and placed on the list, which is designed to help migrants get work visas to fill jobs where there are shortages.

“This is positive and good news for the care sector in Scotland," Dr Macaskill said.  

"Throughout 2021 and before, Scottish Care alongside the Scottish Government and others has highlighted the real damage which has occurred following the Brexit decision and the implementation of new immigration processes at the start of 2021.

"We are pleased that our overtures and meetings with the Migration Advisory Committee have helped others to appreciate the distinctive needs of social care and of Scotland in particular.

"Whilst this falls far short of the open free system which the majority in Scotland desire and voted for, we call upon the Home Office to work with providers to make this work.

"Our research has shown the significant costs of using the new scheme especially for small businesses of the type that make up Scotland’s social care sector. We need practical and financial support to address these costs and make the scheme viable.”

Care providers are experiencing high vacancy rates and turnover, and pressure on staffing is being exacerbated by the recent spread of Omicron.

The recommendation was sparked by preliminary findings from an independent review by the MAC on the effect ending freedom of movement after Brexit is having on the social care sector and its workers.

Care workers and carers from overseas will be able to move with dependents, including partners and children, and the visa offers a path to settlement in the UK.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The care sector is experiencing unprecedented challenges prompted by the pandemic and the changes we’ve made to the health and care visa will bolster the workforce and help alleviate some of the pressures currently being experienced.”

Sam Monaghan, chief executive of MHA, the UK’s largest charitable care provider, said: “Essential care and support for older people is facing a staffing crisis the likes of which we have never seen before.

“Like other non-profit care providers, MHA is having to close the doors of our care homes and we currently have around 19% of our homes unable to accept new residents.

“As a result, older people are staying in hospital longer than they need to or not getting access to the care they want.

“The changes to immigration rules announced today are a very welcome step forward in addressing the ongoing care staffing crisis.

“However, it will be some months before older people feel the benefit of these much-needed changes.

“For now, we need the Government to urgently address pay for care workers, and we need local authorities to draw up emergency plans in case staffing pressures get worse before they get better.”