The government is set to relax immigration rules on care-worker jobs as the sector struggles to fill massive shortages.
Care workers will be added to the shortage occupation list, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
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 was called for “immediately” to temper “severe and increasing difficulties” the sector is facing with recruitment and retention, the MAC said in mid-December.
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.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the measure would help to “ensure short-term sustainability” as he also urged care workers to get vaccinated.
He said: “I also urge all care staff yet to do so to come forward to get boosted now to protect themselves and those they care for.”
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, the DHSC said.
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.
The temporary measures are expected to come into effect early next year and will be in place for a minimum of 12 months.
Care providers are experiencing high vacancy rates and turnover, and pressure on staffing is being exacerbated by the recent spread of Omicron.
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."
Nadra Ahmed, chair of the National Care Association, said the government’s decision was a “significant recognition of the substantial workforce challenges facing colleagues and services across social care”.