Healthcare workers coming to the UK from abroad will receive visa decisions within three weeks under a new post-Brexit immigration system, the government has announced.
The changes, made possible because of biometric technology, will be part of a new Health and Care Visa.
But many social care workers will not be eligible, despite fears of widespread staff shortages, ministers have confirmed.
Only those in “eligible occupations in the social care sector” can apply, Priti Patel, the home secretary has said.
Asked if the visa will cover social care workers, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We want employers to invest more in training and development for care workers in this country. Our independent migration advisers have said that immigration is not the sole answer here, which is why we have provided councils with an additional £1.5 billion for social care in 2021/22 as well as launching a new recruitment campaign.
“The EU workers who are contributing so much to our care sector can apply to stay in the UK through our settlement scheme and a very large number have done so. These people will remain in the UK providing really important care to the elderly and vulnerable.”
The new points-based immigration system is due to come into force on 1 January.
Under the new rules foreign criminals sentenced to more than a year in jail could also be banned from entering Britain.
The reform would mean EU criminals are treated the same as those from non-EU countries.
At the current system, convicted criminals from the bloc can only be excluded on a case-by-case basis.
Under the plans, those seeking to come to the UK can also be refused entry if they have committed an offence which caused serious harm, are a persistent offender or their character or associations means their presence is not conducive to the public good.
Usually those who want to live and work in the UK will need to gain 70 points to be eligible to apply for a visa.
Points will be awarded for key requirements including the ability to speak English, a job offer from an approved employer and a minimum salary threshold.
As well as a separate health and care visa there will also be a graduate route, that will allow international students to stay in the UK for at least two years after completing their studies.
Boris Johnson said the UK would have a “humane and sensible” immigration system.
Asked if he thought there would be enough people coming in to work in the social care system, the prime minister told reporters: “I do.
“Don’t forget one of the amazing things we’ve seen in the last few months is actually there are more EU nationals, I’m proud to say, living and working in this country than we even thought.
“We’re seeing huge numbers of people registering for their right to remain and that’s great so we have a big, big stock of workers who are helping out in this country who have come from abroad.