Visa Rule Changes Put Care Homes On Alert

Visa rule changes put care homes on alert

Philippine embassy says policy will hit its citizens
MP warns of mass exodus of overseas workers

Tania Branigan, political correspondent
Monday August 20, 2007
The Guardian

Elderly people could be left without adequate care because changes to migration rules will create a “forced mass exodus” of thousands of overseas workers, an MP has warned. The new points-based system may prevent essential workers from renewing or gaining visas, according to the English Community Care Association, which represents residential homes.

The Philippine embassy has told the government that it will have a particular impact on its nationals, who make up around 25,000 of the senior carers in Britain. Around 10% to 15% of those cannot apply for settlement or permanent residence status because they have been here for less than five years.

Mark Pritchard, the Tory chairman of the all party group for the Philippines, said the changes could force the departure of thousands of Filipino workers. “Their contribution to the care sector is enormous,” he said. “The government have not thought through the consequences of this policy on care homes.

“No one is trying to overrule the government's new points-based system but it is sensible for this major change to be managed in a way that does not cause a staffing crisis in the care sector. Giving Filipino staff a year's grace to make their own arrangements for their return would also allow the care sector valuable time to make their own alternative staffing arrangements.”

He also questioned the logic of the government giving the Philippine government aid while cutting off remittances – which globally account for 10% of the Philippines' gross domestic product.

Martin Green, chief executive of the ECCA, said he was “very concerned” by the changes, which will be phased in from early next year. “There is a real issue about getting appropriate staff in the care sector and a lot of shortages are certainly plugged by people from overseas … In the longer term it could mean there was a real problem recruiting staff with the required skills to deal with people who sometimes have very high levels of need,” he said.

Few EU migrants would be suitable to fill the jobs because they would lack the nursing, caring and English language skills of Filipino workers, Mr Green added. Relationships which many carers had established with residents could be upset.

According to a briefing paper prepared by the Philippine embassy, carers will need a job offering more than 18,000 a year to stand a fair chance of being approved under the new system. But on average they earn only 11,000 annually.

The ECCA and others are also concerned that the government is already refusing or delaying visa renewals in preparation for the rule shift. While the Home Office insists that the criteria have not yet changed, it is thought that the Border and Immigration Agency is applying them more strictly than in the past because of concerns that people were abusing the system.

In a letter to the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, the Filipino ambassador, Edgardo Espirito, raised concerns of a “cruel and treacherous spin” in the migration cycle and asked for the BIA to renew the visas of those already here.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “There has not been a change in the rules. Work permit applications must meet certain skills criteria. Applications are handled on a case by case basis and the BIA has a legal obligation to make sure the criteria for work permits are applied correctly.”

This article was amended on Friday August 24 2007. In the report above, an editing error caused the following statement to appear without attribution: “Few EU migrants would be suitable to fill the jobs because they would lack the nursing, caring and English language skills of Filipino workers.” It was a paraphrase of a comment made by Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association, and referred to the fact that, unlike in eastern Europe, English is one of the official languages of the Philippines. This has been corrected.