UK Issues a Record Number of Health and Care Work Visas in 2023

| March 5, 2024

The United Kingdom (UK) government’s quarterly migration statistics show that the number of health and care work visas issued last year reached a record high.

For the year ending in December 2023, the UK granted a total of 616,317 visas to overseas workers and their dependents.

This is the highest number for any 12-month period since 2005, representing a 46% increase from 421,565 in 2022.

Of that total number, 337,240 are for work visa applicants. This represents a 26 percent increase from 2022 and almost two and a half times more than 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

The health and care work visas amounted to 146,477, a substantial 91 percent rise from the previous year.

Over 60 percent of the 146,477 health and care work visas were for “care workers and home carers.”

Of the 279,131 total visas issued to all dependents of overseas workers, 73 percent are for family members of health and care workers.

As a result, health and care work visas and their dependants’ visas increased to 349,929. This indicates a significant rise from 63,291 in 2021 to 157,636 in 2022.

Student, family, and humanitarian visas

Excluding tourists and other visitors, the Home Office allowed 1.4 million people to come to the UK on various types of visas in 2023.

This number is slightly higher than the year before and nearly three times the 519,000 visas granted a decade ago.

Apart from work visas, the Home Office granted around 606,000 student visas, 81,000 family-related visas, and 102,000 humanitarian visas last year.

The number of new study visas issued is five percent lower than last year at 457,673. About 90 percent of it is for students in higher education, such as universities.

Still, the total number of new study visas is 70 percent higher than 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

While student visas were down, the number of student visa exemptions through graduate work permits was up 57 percent to 114,000.

On the other hand, family-related visas, which are used to bring family to the UK, are up 72 percent compared to 2022. This also represents the highest calendar year on record.

Almost half of the 102,283 humanitarian visas issued in 2023 were for applicants of Ukraine’s special visa schemes.

The figure is 66 percent less than the previous year, primarily due to fewer Ukraine Visa and Extension Schemes.

Addressing demand for overseas workers and cutting net migration

Dr. Ben Brindle, researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, explained that the surge in health and care work visas was due to “serious shortages of staff” in that sector.

Oxford University’s Migration Observatory Director, Dr. Madeleine Sumption, added that “employers had to adjust” when free movement ended when the UK left the EU.

In December 2023, Home Office Secretary James Cleverly announced significant changes in legal migration policies. The goal is to cut the UK’s net migration numbers by 300,000.

For the year ending in June 2023, the UK net migration, or the difference between the number of people arriving and leaving the country, is 672,000.

It is slightly down from the record high of 745,000 in the year ending in December 2022. However, it is “still far too high,” putting a strain on the UK’s public services.

Changes to health and care work visa policies

The UK government is increasing the minimum income salary threshold for all skilled workers from £26,200 to £38,700 starting 4 April 2024.

Health and care sector visa applicants are exempted from the salary threshold hike. However, they will no longer be allowed to bring dependents to the UK.

Care providers planning to sponsor migrant workers must also register with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Changes to the health and care workers’ visa rules will come into force by 11 March 2024.

The British government is also ending the 20 percent salary discount on jobs in the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). The Immigration Salary List (ISL) will also replace the SOL.

The independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recently released its rapid review of the SOL and recommended 21 jobs in the ISL.

This represents eight percent of the total roles eligible for the skilled worker visas. It is significantly lower than 30 percent of the total skilled worker jobs in the SOL.

Laboratory and pharmaceutical technicians, care workers, home carers, and senior care workers are among MAC’s recommended jobs in the ISL.

The British government will also raise the minimum salary threshold for family visa applicants. This will be rolled out in phases to give families predictability.

The salary threshold for the first phase will increase from £18,600 to £29,000, effective 11 April 2024.

By early 2025, family visa applicants must meet the salary threshold of £38,700, similar to the skilled workers’ salary threshold.

For student visa rule changes, postgraduate research students and those enrolled in government-funded scholarship courses may still bring dependents to the UK.

Other student visa applicants have not been allowed to bring family to the UK since 1 January 2024. They also cannot switch to work visas before completing their course.

The MAC will also review the Graduate visa route to ensure it benefits the country and to prevent individuals from abusing it.