Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules - Motion to Regret

– in the House of Lords am 7:44 pm ar 1 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Oates:

Moved by Lord Oates

That this House regrets the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (HC 556), published on 19 February, in particular the provisions preventing overseas care workers from bringing family to the United Kingdom, as this will (1) deprive migrant care workers of the basic right of caring for their own children, (2) increase workers’ dependency on their sponsors by removing the safety net of a partner’s income, and (3) make it harder for workers to report and change sponsors, increasing the risk of exploitation.

Relevant document: 16th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I thank the Work Rights Centre for its briefing and support, and for all its efforts to protect working people from exploitation. I am also grateful to the Kenyan Nurses and Midwives Association UK, the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project, the Cavendish Coalition, and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation for their briefing.

Noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that my remarks tonight will be heavily critical of the Government so, before I embark on them—and as I may not have another chance before change comes at the next election —I put on record my personal respect for the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, and my thanks to him for his rapid and humane responses to the immigration issues I have frequently raised with him.

This regret Motion concerns the Government’s Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules on 19 February, which came into effect on 11 March. The Statement implements part of the announcements made by the Home Secretary on 4 December 2023. This includes preventing overseas care workers from bringing their dependants to the UK, and a requirement that care providers in England that wish to sponsor migrant workers are registered with the Care Quality Commission. Regrettably, these changes will do little to combat exploitation in the care sector. Arguably, they will encourage and entrench it.

Before I go into further detail on this point, I express particular regret at the notion that carers arriving in the UK will no longer be able to bring their children with them. This troubles me deeply. We are asking care workers to care for our loved ones, but we are denying them the right to do the same in respect of their own children and partners. The Government have stated that they do not expect a significant reduction in the demand for care roles because of this change. Given the Government’s failure to provide an impact assessment to accompany these changes, a fact highlighted by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, neither we nor the Government can know this. Only time will tell, but I will certainly be surprised if the changes do not lead to a fall in the experience and quality of care workers who wish to come to the United Kingdom.

This concern appears validated by the work of two organisations, Women of Zimbabwe and the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, which support over 100 women healthcare workers who received their work permits before the changes took place and therefore have a right to have their children join them. However, they are repeatedly being refused visas for their children. The distress and anxiety of leaving a child behind are overwhelming, and many of these women choose to return home rather than continue to be parted from their children. One of these women describes the pain of separation from her teenage son as follows:

“The separation has strained the emotional bond between us. I am not in his life during this critical teenage stage. It’s devastating not to be in the daily life of your child. It is having a negative impact on his future. In truth I am now a depressed caregiver. This in turn affects my work as well. A happy carer makes happy clients”.

These women are exceptional people. Some are graduates and university lecturers, and many have medical qualifications —they are nurses, midwives and senior nurses. They have skills and experience that our country will not benefit from if we enforce the separation of care workers from their children and partners.

However, regardless of whether the number of care workers or the level of their experience falls or stays the same, we should ask ourselves whether this change is morally right. What sort of country are we if we exploit the contribution that care workers make to the well-being of our communities but implement rules that separate them from their communities and their children, across continents and against their will? We need to think carefully about this issue and how we ourselves would feel were such a situation to affect us and our families.

Separating parents from their children is terrible in itself, but there are other consequences that the ban on dependants is likely to have. The Work Rights Centre points out that the ban, which includes a ban on partners, is likely to do two things: first, to force carers into acquiescent exploitative working conditions and, secondly, to make it more likely that carers will be forced into destitution. This is because the income of partners is one of the only lifelines that migrant care workers have to support themselves when exiting an exploitative workplace. It is also often a vital source of income, given the cost of living pressures in the UK.

Turning to the first issue, migrant care workers are vulnerable because their visas rely on employer sponsorship. The latest intelligence report from the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the government agency tasked with tackling exploitation, noted that the most common vulnerability among potential victims of forced and compulsory labour in the UK was the potential victim being tied into a visa sponsorship arrangement with an employer. The report states:

“This on occasions led to workers being forced to work for the employer even if the conditions were unacceptable and the employer using the threat of cancelling the sponsorship if the worker complained”.

If sponsorship is revoked, workers have only 60 days to find another registered sponsor before becoming undocumented. Two months’ time is simply not enough time; not only do workers have to find a new employer who has a sponsor licence in that period but they also have to secure confirmation of a job offer and they need to submit new visa applications for themselves and any family members. To make matters more difficult, there is no central job search portal to match migrant workers in this situation with legitimate employers who have a sponsor licence.

With regard to the second issue, migrant care workers and their partners arriving in the UK depend on the money that they are able to earn while working in the sector; they do not have recourse to public funds and, in social care, they are paid at notoriously low rates. Many migrant workers opt for the additional 20 hours a week that is permitted under the health and care work visa in order to supplement their income, and many often need their partner’s income to meet the cost of living. A central concern here is that, without addressing the vulnerability that underlies work sponsorship or tackling the issues of low pay in the sector, banning migrant care workers from bringing their partners to the UK will do little but increase cost of living pressures and financially disincentivise people from reporting exploitation. That is before we consider whether it is right that those emigrating to the UK to work in our social care sector and make a valuable contribution to our society should be denied the ability to do so with their loved ones by their side.

I come now to the new CQC registration requirement, designed to combat the increasing and disturbing evidence of exploitation of sponsored workers in the care sector. Regrettably, the evidence suggests that these changes are unlikely to achieve this important objective. There have been recent media reports concerning sponsor licences being issued by the Home Office to companies purporting to provide care but with a very limited corporate history or track record of actually doing so. Some of these companies were successfully registered with the CQC before being given sponsor licences, although they had never been subject to CQC inspection. This has resulted in sponsored workers arriving in the UK to find that there is no work and being forced into precarious situations by rogue actors to whom they are often indebted.

These revelations suggest that merely being registered with the CQC is not a sufficient measure to prevent exploitation. Stakeholders have identified a number of loopholes—for example, that care providers can register with the CQC but then make this registration dormant. The provider is not then subject to inspection or other regulation by the CQC, and its dormant status is not listed on the CQC’s website. Stakeholders have expressed concerns that these dormant providers are obtaining sponsor licences.

These loopholes give rise to a number of questions, which I hope the Minister can answer this evening. First, why do the Government not impose a requirement that care providers wishing to sponsor migrant workers should either have been subject to inspection in the recent past or must be inspected before a licence to sponsor is issued? Secondly, have the Government considered imposing a minimum inspection rating as a requirement before care providers are eligible to sponsor? Thirdly, what measures do the Government intend to put in place to assess the impact of these changes so that the Home Office can properly assess whether they are delivering on the objective of ending care worker exploitation?

The truth is that this measure, while it has the veneer of action against exploitation, is without any real teeth to ensure that that exploitation is actually stamped out. The CQC has not been provided with new powers to investigate labour exploitation within the care workforce. Indeed, that is not its responsibility. The CQC is clear that its focus is on the quality of care that is delivered, not on labour exploitation. The CQC obviously has a vital role to play in regulating the social care sector in England, but the Home Office cannot abdicate its responsibility to properly audit employers before and after sponsor licences are given out.

On this note, the report of the former Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration into the immigration system and its role in the care sector is deeply concerning. It highlighted, among other things, the inappropriateness of the sponsor licensing regime for the sector and the mismatch between the Home Office’s meagre complement of compliance officers and the ever-expanding register of licensed sponsors. Senior Home Office staff and managers told the inspector’s team that Home Office guidance is not sufficiently stringent to enable refusals of sponsor licence applications, even where significant concerns exist.

In light of these findings, will the Minister outline what improvements have been made to empower sponsor compliance case workers to refuse the licence applications of abusive employers at the earliest possible stage? If the department cannot instigate a greater number of sponsor inspections, how will it change guidance so that it does not remain flexible and enabling for exploitative sponsors? How is the Home Office protecting migrant workers who, as a result of enforcement action against sponsors, are left destitute and indebted? These are key questions, the answers to which are extremely unclear.

I close by paying heartfelt tribute to all those who come to this country to work in our health and care sectors in difficult circumstances and often on low pay. They make an immeasurable contribution to our country and the well-being of our communities. I hope, therefore, that the Government will reconsider their approach so that we can ensure that they are all protected from exploitation, are able to have a decent standard of living and are afforded the rights to family life that we would expect for ourselves. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Allan of Hallam Lord Allan of Hallam Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Oates has done us all a favour by ensuring that we are able to have this debate today—a debate which, as he has pointed out to us, involves some of the most vulnerable people coming to this country in order to fill a need that we have. It is that need that has brought me here to make a contribution today.

The debate is particularly timely, given that we had the Government earlier today making a Statement in which they seemed incredibly pleased with themselves because there had been a reduction of over 20% in the number of health and social care visas that were issued during the first three months of the year. That reduction with which the Government are so inordinately pleased is an area of significant concern for those of us who worry about the provision of health and social care services.

There are three possible hypotheses for why we saw that reduction. The first is that the need for health and social care workers was only temporary—that we have now filled all the jobs and therefore no longer need those migrant workers. That seems quite a stretch to me. The second is that the reduction represents the fact that some of the fraud and abuse in the system has been squeezed out—those visas were not actually necessary, so now the new processes have squeezed them out. I am sure that that is what the Government hope is happening. The third is that there continue actually to be significant shortages but somehow we have managed to contrive through these changes to change the system such that we are putting people off, for the very good reasons that my noble friend described —for example, there are people who simply will not come now, even though we desperately need them, because they cannot bring their family members with them.

If that latter scenario is true then we are storing up trouble. We can imagine that we will be back here in six months’ time, having to make changes again because our health and social care system is crying out for those workers. That kind of yo-yo effect does a disservice both to the health and social care system and to our reputation. We are perhaps a little imperial in thinking that people out there think of the UK as the only option; they have a lot of options. As long as the UK presents a good option, people from countries will come here. However, if we are yo-yoing—saying that we want them today but not tomorrow, and making it easy today but difficult tomorrow—then people will explore other options. When we issue the call for help because we need it, fewer people will answer. From a health and social care point of view, this is extremely concerning.

I would be interested to hear from the Minister what mix of those scenarios he thinks is correct: that we have put people off who we actually need; that we do not need them any more; or that there was just a lot of fraud in the system, and we have now squeezed that out and therefore everything is fine and at a steady state.

The issue I want to dig into in my remarks is the question about visas that were issued for jobs that did not exist, which my noble friend rightly highlighted. We had some questions on this the other day, and I have been using the phrase “unscrupulous sponsors”, which is quite mealy-mouthed language. I looked back at the Fraud Act 2006—we had an inquiry into this recently—Section 2 of which is about fraud by false representation. It says that:

“A person is in breach of this section if he … dishonestly makes a false representation, and … intends, by making the representation … to make a gain for himself or another, or … to cause loss to another, or expose another to a risk of loss”.

That sounds to me like the perfect definition for the activity, which has been reported, of people saying, for financial gain, that there is a job in the United Kingdom and that they will, for money, help people apply for a visa. The person then turns up here and there is no visa. The victim is a poor person from another country; the perpetrator, in many cases, is a cynical, wealthy person in this country who has chosen to use this route to exploit others.

I would be interested to hear whether the Minister agrees that we should be thinking of this as fraud—in a sense, the most despicable kind of fraud—and so be less mealy-mouthed about the way in which we talk about what is happening within the system, where people are encouraging others to apply for visas for jobs that they know do not exist, and are doing so for financial reasons.

We know from plenty of other evidence that fraudsters are rational actors. They look for where they can make the most money for the least risk. Some of these recent changes, such as the CQC registration, have made it a little more costly for people who are intent on abusing the system in that way to do their business. Can the Minister say why this was not considered from the outset? When you describe the scenario, it seems kind of obvious. We know that there are people out there who are looking to make money and who will exploit any system. They do not care about immigration or anything else, other than where they can make money— I am sure that they were doing Covid forms three years ago. Why is it that the Home Office, in all its wisdom, seems not to have recognised that this would be one of the consequences of the change that it brought in? It may be that we should give it a little leeway as it was rushing to fill a need through the health and social care visas and did not have time to put this in place. I am curious as to whether this is something that the Home Office thought about but prioritised the need to get the workers in, or whether it is something that it was surprised by and did not expect to happen.

I am interested to hear from the Minister what is now being done to ensure that the risk part of the equation is changing for those people. If somebody today still thinks that this is a good money-making opportunity, how likely is it that they will be prosecuted for fraud? My noble friend talked about some of the things that we have in place now, but, frankly, being kicked off the CQC list is not a real deterrent. It means that they cannot carry out that particular fraud again, but I do not want them to take the money and move on to somewhere else; I want them to feel the pain—he says as a Liberal—for their cynical act of taking money, and not delivering the health and care workers who we need, and in doing so exploiting very poor, vulnerable people around the world and trashing the name of our country as they engage in this activity.

Some of the representations that my noble friend has brought to us tell us just how angry people are in some of the source countries at the exploitation that has taken place. It is not something that they expected from the United Kingdom. It is not the Government’s fault, but it is people in the United Kingdom carrying out that exploitation, and I think the expectation is that the Government will come down hard on them.

To close, I hope the Minister can confirm that he agrees that this is fraudulent activity and can explain whether the Government have something in place to increase the risk part of the equation by making it such that, if somebody were thinking tomorrow about exploiting the health and social care visa system, there would be serious consequences. My noble friend talked about the registration process; the great thing about that from the point of view of fraud is that we now have all the paperwork to show that the person made the false representations—they have signed and submitted those documents. It should not be beyond the wit of the prosecuting authorities to make examples of people who have entered the system in that spirit.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 8:00, 1 Mai 2024

My Lords, I hope that the House will forgive me for taking the Front-Bench slot from this Bench instead, where I can lean on the back of the Bench in front of me.

The inscription on the sculpture at Waterloo Station commemorating the Windrush generation reads:

“You called … and we came”.

It is the first and repeated line of a poem by Professor Laura Serrant, a very senior nurse, celebrating the call between 1948 and 1971 to people to care for this nation. One stanza is as follows:

“Our big hearts, skilful hands and quick minds encased in our skins – of a darker hue.

Which had shimmered and glowed in our sunnier climes.

But now signified our difference

– our un-belonging.

Matrons became assistants

Nurses became like chambermaids.

All the while striving to fulfil our promise

– to succour, to serve, to care”.

This is not the first time that I have used poetry in this Chamber to make a point which I cannot make quite so clearly myself.

I share both my noble friends’ regret regarding these rule changes as they apply to care workers—though “regret” is rather a mild term when we still look beyond the UK to other countries for people to care for us but do not treat them as we should. We fail to respect them as we should. We subject or expose them to experiences that do not show respect or, sometimes, humanity. We may not display overt racism in the same way that the Windrush generation encountered, but failing to recognise that caring is part of the culture of some other nations in a way that it is not in ours is, I think, an aspect of othering.

The paradox—or contradiction, if you like—of “We want you and we need you but there is a limit to how far we will reflect that in our rules and our ways of working” remains. It is reflected in the rules regarding dependants and in the risks of exploitation. My noble friends have covered that very fully, as did the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—although, as usual, it couched its criticisms in very careful language. Its report on the lack of an impact assessment and an equality impact assessment is very clear and, in my view, uncontestable, as is the absence of consultation. On the latter, the Government explained that

“an external consultation would carry an unacceptably high risk of a prolonged spike in applications pre-empting the rule changes”.

In other words, they have made the decision and do not want to have anything fed back to them that disrupts that decision.

To say, as the Home Office did, that a formal public consultation

“would be disproportionate given the nature of the changes” overlooks how our care system operates, which is of enormous public interest and concern. It is something that people think of in terms of their own lives and the lives of the people they are close to. The Home Office explained that consultation would be disproportionate because of the

“marginal benefits of consulting on these particular changes – which would be unlikely to … inform the policy in any meaningful way”.

I leave that to speak for itself, but to me it is an interesting approach to consultation.

I am a member of the Select Committee reviewing the Modern Slavery Act, and we have identified the care sector as one to be concerned about. I do not want to say too much about that, not least because we have yet to take oral evidence from the CQC, but the CQC’s expertise, or the limits of its expertise, and its capacity have already been identified as areas to investigate: just what is to be inspected; what about enforcement; how best practice is to be encouraged and maintained; and all this in the context of a route designed, as the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration put it, as applying to a largely compliant sector but applied to a high-risk area. It is a fragmented sector too, and it is easy to let people fall through the gaps. And it is a sector where exploitative practices are seen in providers who are actually now registered with the CQC.

How “the party of the family” can introduce rules about dependants, most of whom must be children and all of whom are subject to the “no recourse to public funds” rules is beyond me. How does this help in filling care roles? Is it a deterrent that care workers cannot bring their dependants with them? Deterrence must be a term which the Government wish had never been coined. It seems that, yet again, immigration numbers trump every other consideration.

Professor Serrant’s poem ends:

“Recognising the richness of our kaleidoscope nation.

Where compassion, courage and diversity are reflected in our presence and our contribution:

Not only the hopes and dreams of our ancestors.

Human values needed to truly lead change … and add value.

Remember… you called.

Remember… you called.

You called.

Remember, it was us, who came”.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for moving his regret Motion and for the way he did it so fully and so movingly, if I may say so. I also thank the two other Liberal Democrat Peers who have spoken. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Allan, had an interesting perspective, with the various questions he asked the Minister and the way he delved a little more into the fraud that is strongly suspected to be currently within the system. Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has taken a long-standing interest in these matters.

Anyone who works in our adult social care system deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and our thanks should go to anyone who comes to our country to join our adult social workforce and our NHS workforce. The changes the Government have made regarding access to and cost of visas, including family visas, have had a huge impact on many families across the country, and there are serious concerns about how lack of transparency in the Government’s decision-making only makes the situation worse.

Net immigration levels soared to 745,000 in 2022, despite the Government repeatedly saying their priority is to bring them down. This compares to a net immigration level of 245,000 in 2019. We in the Labour Party are clear that this level of immigration is unsustainable. We must ensure a level of controlled immigration that balances the needs of the country. Our efforts to create a sustainable system must be evidence-based and transparent. The Government have not been clear, in the large number of major changes they have made in the past year, about why decisions are being made and what impact they will have on our workforce and our economy. The Migratory Advisory Committee must be asked to investigate the impact of preventing workers bringing dependants to the UK, as well as the setting of salary thresholds, and decision-makers must consider those findings and reach a sensible, balanced conclusion.

Beyond the setting of immigration levels, we must ensure that people on long-term sick leave or who are economically inactive can return to the workforce, and ensure that people are able to access high-quality skills training that is local to them. For the social care industry, in particular, there is an urgent need to ensure that a proper workforce plan is put in place as well as a fair pay agreement that empowers all social care workers to negotiate for better terms and conditions.

There is mounting evidence, too, of the scale of abuse associated with exploitative or outright fake agencies and firms hiring migrant care workers. The Government must undertake a review of sponsor licence holders, create tougher rules on social care visa sponsorship and build a single enforcement body to protect against exploitation and trafficking.

I acknowledge that this is a difficult issue and I repeat my opening statement about the gratitude we all feel for people who come and care for our family members. I have recently been in that position myself, just in the last couple of weeks, and it worked out very well in my own family’s case. It is a difficult, sensitive issue. I think the Liberal Democrat Peers have raised real issues of substance, and I look forward to the Minister’s answer.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 8:15, 1 Mai 2024

My Lords, I also thank all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Oates, who tabled this Motion and has therefore given us the opportunity to discuss these important issues. Before I address the points raised, I will start by summarising the changes that have come into effect.

On 4 December, the Home Secretary announced a package of changes aimed at reducing the overall level of net migration and tackling abuse in the social care sector. From 11 March, those being sponsored to work as care workers or senior care workers have been unable to apply with dependants. As we have seen with the latest statistics that were published yesterday, since May 2023 there have been, on average, 20,000 dependant applications per month under the health and care visa. That is unsustainable, so we had to act. We also now require any care service seeking to sponsor care workers in England to be providing regulated services and be registered with the Care Quality Commission.

However, the Government of course continue to be immensely grateful for the vital contribution that health and social care workers from across the world make, and we recognise their commitment in keeping vital services running and, obviously, in saving lives. As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, noted, they are of course exceptional people.

The Government have provided substantial support for health and care professionals, over and above what other sectors get. We launched the health and care visa in August 2020, making it easier, cheaper and quicker for health workers to come to the UK to work, compared to other immigration routes. As we have seen in the immigration statistics, the sector makes very good use of the immigration system to ensure it has the workers it needs. Building on that, we added care workers to the shortage occupation list and health and care visas on 15 February 2022. Since this time, the Home Office have issued over 100,000 visas to care workers and senior care workers, before even considering dependants accompanying and joining them. These roles remain on the immigration salary list, maintaining access to these workers for the sector.

While we have a generous visa offering in place for the sector, the Government also have commitments in reducing overall numbers coming to the UK, and we have taken action to address that. Let me be clear that the provisions that came into force on 11 March apply to new applications and will not affect those already sponsored to work as a care worker or senior care worker through the health and care visa before that date. That includes those who were sponsored before the rules had changed but who have not brought dependants to the UK yet. In addition, there is a provision allowing children born in the UK to regularise their stay.

The Government recognise that the measure to prevent care workers and senior care workers from applying with dependants will dissuade some people from applying. However, given the large volume of applications, we believe that there will still be people willing to apply for care worker and senior care worker roles, and our offer to those carers is still very competitive.

There is no evidence yet on the quality issue that the noble Lord, Lord Oates, raised, but we will keep that under review. I also note that medically qualified individuals possibly have other routes available to them that may allow for dependants to accompany them.

I turn to the points raised in the Motion. We have clearly set out the position that individuals will need to determine whether they wish to make an application with the full knowledge that those working in care worker and senior care worker roles will not be able to apply with dependants. As I have said, we believe that we still have a very generous offer for those who wish to work in social care.

All noble Lords have raised concerns about individuals having an increased reliance on sponsors as a result of not having family in the UK. I accept that this may be a possibility, but it is also arguable that a person having to consider the impact of leaving a job, which might affect an entire family, has greater reason to stay than an individual without a family to support. I also caution that only 25% of dependants are estimated to be in work, meaning that many would not be able to rely on additional income to support the family in any event. I also do not believe that these changes make it harder to report or change an employer. I must say that we will not tolerate any instances of abuse by employers and, where we see evidence of it, we will take action.

Officials from the Home Office and the DHSC are working closely with the sector to improve their interactions with the immigration system and to help target non-compliance and exploitation. We strongly condemn offering employment to health and care worker visa holders under false pretences. Those found operating unlawfully may face prosecution and/or removal from the sponsorship register.

During UKVI compliance work, we have encountered a significant number of non-genuine employers and, in very high numbers, employers not being able to evidence hours of work available to migrants. That has led to two strands of action. First, considerable scrutiny is applied to employers who are asking to bring over a migrant worker, to ensure that they have enough work guaranteed to occupy that worker in addition to their current workforce. Secondly, compliance activity is being taken against employers currently sponsoring migrant workers when they are either unfit to do so or do not have sufficient work levels available for that migrant. Given the level of displaced workers and abuse in the sector—and the need to operate a fair immigration system that treats all workers, employers and sectors equally—it would not be appropriate to relax those requirements for the care sector.

The Home Office has also dedicated resource to policing the sponsorship system to ensure that sponsors adhere to their duties and wider UK law. A person who is sponsored to work in the UK is linked to that employer, but they are free to seek alternative sponsorship and to make a new application if they do not believe that they are being treated fairly. If a person were here with a family and decided to leave their job, they would still need to find alternative sponsored employment before their leave was curtailed. As I mentioned earlier, the additional income from a working partner would help only if they were one of the 25% of dependants estimated to be in employment. Those individuals whose sponsor’s licence has been revoked can seek alternative employment, providing they have a job offer from a Home Office-approved sponsor and make a new application. Work is under way, across government, with the sector to address unethical recruitment practices and to signpost migrants to help with their rights.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for bringing up the subject of the domestic workforce, because a lot of work is being done on that and I welcome the opportunity to run through it quickly. We remain committed to developing the domestic workforce by investing in retention through better workforce training, recognition and career progression. We are launching a new career structure for care workers, so that all staff can build their careers and more experienced care workers are recognised for their skills. We are creating a new qualification and digital skills record to reduce the need for retraining costs and additional training time for care workers every time they might move employer. Reduced retraining also means that care workers can spend more time caring for people. We are increasing funding for learning and development, creating thousands of new training places, so that care workers can improve their skills and gain qualifications.

The Government have made available up to £8.6 billion in additional funding over the financial years 2023-24 and 2024-25 to support adult social care and discharge. That includes the £500 million announced this January, which has been made available specifically to support local authorities with the cost of social care in 2024-25. We provided £15 million for the 2023-24 financial year to help local areas to establish support arrangements for ethical international recruitment in adult social care and bolster the workforce. We are also working with the DWP to promote adult social care careers to jobseekers, and funding sector partners to provide support to employers and commissioners to improve recruitment and retention.

The noble Lord, Lord Allan, asked a number of questions about immigration non-compliance and migrant exploitation. As I have said, we are working very closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on that. UKVI also works closely with law enforcement counterparts on areas that it identifies go beyond immigration non-compliance. He invited me to speculate on the type of offences that may be committed, but I obviously cannot do that because I do not know. Some of those may well represent fraud, but it would not be for me to say. As I also mentioned, we have a large number of compliance officers who ensure that the system is properly policed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked a perfectly good question about the impact assessment. A full impact assessment has not been published, and I have been before the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee to discuss the matter. We published a Statement on the estimated impact on immigration in December 2023. The Government are still working through assumptions on the impact assessment, but we intend to publish it as soon as that work has been completed. The estimated impact on visa in-flows was published in December 2023, which estimated a 22% reduction based on the number of workers who could be matched to the register of CQC-regulated businesses—equivalent to around 20,000, if the rule had been in place in the year to September 2023.

Noble Lords will be aware that the Government are committed to bringing down the overall level of net migration. We believe that the package of measures announced on 4 December strikes the right balance between cutting the numbers of people who come to the UK and attracting those with the required skills and experience. Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oates, for the opportunity to discuss this important issue—and for his very kind words—and all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I will read the report of it carefully and, if I have not answered any questions, I will do so by letter.

Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. A number of important points have been made, but I fear that he may be a little complacent about the ability of care workers who feel that they are being exploited to leave their employment and find other employment. It is an incredibly difficult situation for them, and things certainly do not seem to operate in that way.

There are very important issues around the enforcement of and resources for compliance. The Minister seemed to suggest that the Home Office had the necessary resources for that job but, as I pointed out, that was certainly not the view of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, also made an important point about the idea of a single enforcement authority, because we need absolute clarity about who is enforcing things.

I am particularly grateful to my noble friends Lord Allan and Lady Hamwee for taking part in this debate and for, as always, bringing important thoughts to it. I also thank her for the passion that she has always shown on these issues.

I would have wished to divide the Chamber on this matter in different circumstances, but that might not be the wisest idea tonight. I am sure that we will return to the issue in due course. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion to Regret.

Motion withdrawn.