The UK government has announced a new Health and Care Visa for healthcare professionals that will enable dependents to come to the UK from early 2024 onwards. This visa route provides a pathway for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers to bring their families while they work in the overstretched National Health Service (NHS) and social care sector.
Overview of the Health and Care Visa
The Health and Care Visa was introduced in 2020 to make it simpler, cheaper, and quicker for healthcare professionals to come to work in the UK. So far, over 40,000 health professionals have moved to the UK to take up employment in the NHS and care sector through this route.The visa has very positive attributes, including:
- Reduced visa fees – £232 instead of £624
- Faster processing times – a decision within 3 weeks
- Permission to bring dependents once working in the UK
- Priority access to the NHS and care sector
Eligible occupations include doctors, nurses, radiographers, social workers, paramedics, occupational therapists, psychologists as well as their eligible dependents.
The Challenge of Staff Shortages
The NHS and care sector have faced severe staffing shortages for many years. It is estimated that there are over 130,000 vacancies across the health service and care industry, including 50,000 nurse vacancies and 12,000 doctor vacancies.
This has placed enormous strain on existing staff.The COVID-19 pandemic also led to increased burnout and fatigue amongst healthcare workers, causing some to leave the profession entirely. This has exacerbated the recruitment crisis. Allowing dependents to accompany health professionals coming to the UK is intended to boost recruitment from overseas and encourage healthcare staff to remain in the UK long term.
Good News on Dependents
Initially, the Health and Care Visa did not allow for dependents to come at the same time as the main visa holder.
Families have had to be separated, with the main healthcare worker arriving first, before applying to bring their spouse and children after starting work in the UK.This separation has deterred some healthcare professionals from taking up vital jobs.
It has also made retention more difficult, with some staff choosing to leave NHS roles sooner so that they can reunite with loved ones abroad.However, the government has listened to feedback from the health sector and announced welcome changes.
From early 2024, eligible dependents will be able join healthcare workers when they first arrive in the UK .This change will allow families to stay together and is likely to have a very positive impact on recruitment and retention. It brings the Health and Care Visa into line with other skilled work routes such as the Skilled Worker visa.
Who Can Come as a Dependent?
Eligible dependents include:
- Spouses and partners in a civil partnership or lasting relationship
- Children under the age of 18
- Adult dependent relatives requiring care due to age, illness, or disability
In most cases, dependents will need to meet English language and financial requirements. But the good news is that dependents will have full rights to work and study in the UK without restriction . This provides family members with opportunities to build their own careers and independence.
Healthcare professionals will be able to include dependents when first applying for entry clearance under the Health and Care Visa route.Both the main applicant and dependents will need to meet suitability, eligibility and entry clearance requirements. This will include:
- Meeting identity, qualification, maintenance funds and other standards
- Health checks and medical screening
- Police certificates showing any unspent convictions
Skilled lawyers can provide guidance on the visa process and help applicants demonstrate they meet all mandatory criteria.The government aims to process applications within 3 weeks, enabling families to arrive and settle in the UK promptly.
The Health and Care Visa provides a pathway to settlement, or Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after 5 years of continuous residence.Dependents will also qualify for ILR, provided they have lived continuously in the UK for 5 years also.Settlement provides the certainty needed to fully integrate in British life and continue building careers in the healthcare sector.
Allowing dependents to join healthcare professionals under the Health and Care Visa from 2024 is extremely positive news. This will keep families together and likely improve staffing levels across the NHS and care industry.
Healthcare employers need to promote these positive changes to recruit more professionals from overseas. Meanwhile, current staff should understand the future options open to them and their loved ones.There are still challenges ahead in tackling workforce shortages. But enabling healthcare staff to reside in the UK with dependents is a major step forward.
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