The recent highlighting of the country’s reliance on NHS workers and the health care system by the Covid-19 outbreak, which has led to an outpouring of public gratitude, has left the government keen to capitalise politically on the public mood. They have therefore created a “new” category of visa called the Health and Care Visa, which has been available since the 4th of August 2020.
What is new?
This category of visa, as you will note from the following paragraphs, is not really a new visa; instead it is actually a Tier 2 General Visa, reclassified specifically to deal with health care workers. The terms and eligibility criteria are therefore largely identical to the existing Tier 2 General Visa under the shortage occupation list.
Generally, under the points-based system, work permits granted under Tier 2 General require an applicant to have a sponsoring employer, with the requirement that the role should not undercut the local market. This visa should in theory only be granted to fill vacancies that cannot be filled by UK or EU citizen workers. Some roles, however, are known to be facing extremely short supplies of workers, such as nurses and doctors, and therefore the government has made a special list of roles that can be filled without needing to jump through the usual hoops, for example having to advertise the role for a specific period of time. This list is called the shortage occupation list, and nurses and health care workers have been on the list since its creation.
Who is eligible?
This UK Health and Care Visa category has an almost identical list to the shortage occupation list for the Tier 2 General and mainly covers:
- Healthcare workers
- Social health care professionals
It may be noted from the above list that it is similar to the Tier 2 General shortage occupations list, but does not include normal Healthcare workers, for example, those working for care homes.
Exhaustive list – applicants MUST be taking up a job in one of the following list of Standard Occupational Classification codes occupations to be eligible for the Health and Care Visa
The Health and Care Visa will only apply to :
• 2112 – Biological scientists and biochemists
• 2113 – Physical Scientists
• 2211 – Medical Practitioners
• 2212 – Psychologists
• 2213 – Pharmacists
• 2214 – Ophthalmic Opticians
• 2215 – Dental practitioners
• 2217 – Medical Radiographers
• 2218 – Podiatrists
• 2219 – Health Professionals not elsewhere classified
• 2221 – Physiotherapists
• 2222 – Occupational Therapists
• 2223 – Speech and Language Therapists
• 2229 – Therapy professionals not elsewhere classified
• 2231 – Nurses
• 2232 – Midwives
• 2442 – Social Workers
• 3213 – Paramedics
A further restriction is that applicants must be working for or have a job offer from the NHS directly, from an organisation that provides medical services to the NHS or from an organisation that provides adult social care services. It also is important that the employer has a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence, as they will be required to provide the applicant with a certificate of sponsorship in order for them to make the application.
The waiting period
One of the supposed advantages of this new category of visa is that it is meant to be quicker than the usual Tier 2 work permit visas, presumably in order for the NHS to find the additional staff that they need quickly. According to the guidance, the visa should be processed within three weeks from the date on which the applicant provides their biometric data. This is much shorter than the twelve weeks for a similar application under Tier 2 being submitted from abroad. The time difference is noticeable for an entry clearance application, but for an in-country application, both categories of visa have a three week turnaround time.
Here there is also a slight difference to the Tier 2 General category. First of all, it is notable that for this visa there is NO Immigration Health Surcharge to pay ( you applicant or their dependents), but then again, if you are an NHS worker, there is No Immigration Health Surcharge to pay under the General Tier 2 category.
Following the Prime Minister’s embarrassing on-air discovery that NHS staff were being asked to pay thousands of pounds to remain in this country, the government promised to scrap these fees for NHS workers and amended the law so that those who had already paid the IHS on or after 31 March 2020 would get a refund.
There is a slight difference in the cost of the actual visa compared to the Tier 2 General. Currently, this visa costs £223 for a three year period, or £464 for more than three years, with special discounts for Turkish and Macedonian citizens, who pay £177 or £409 respectively.
Compared: This visas fee are less than for a healthcare worker coming in with the Tier 2 General Visa, who would currently be paying £464 for up to three years under the shortage occupation list, or £928 for more than three years on the shortage occupation list.
Settlement – Indefinite Leave to Remain
Similar to on the Tier 2 General Visa, the maximum period of time that someone can reside in the UK with this visa is just over 5 years, with eligibility for Indefinite Leave to Remain after 5 years.
Good but not enough
Overall this visa is a step in a positive direction, as removal of extra hassle and cost for employers and healthcare workers is beneficial to us all, especially to the NHS, who are competing for these specialist workers with countries such as Australia and Germany. However, it lacks real substance and seems a wasted opportunity, given the limited scope and the minute differences between this category and ones which already exist. It also seems unlikely to make a significant difference to healthcare workers who are already working in the UK, given that this route is only open to fresh applications.
Given that the problem of recruiting from abroad has already been addressed by the shortage occupation list, this visa appears to lack the real depth of change to distinguish it from a political gimmick. We hope that the points-based system that we are being promised at the beginning of next year will bring actual changes.
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