Keep the door open under new immigration system

A temporary visa immigration route, and increased early years funding, are required to avoid worsening the recruitment crisis, says Chris Russell

Chris Russell
Chris Russell

The Government’s new immigration system risks making a difficult recruitment situation even worse. In case you missed the Government’s recent announcement – from January 2021, there will be a new, global immigration system following the end of freedom of movement with the EU. 

Put simply, if you want to live and work in the UK in future, apart from a few exceptions, you will need to:

a) be employed by an approved sponsor;

b) have an offer for a job that is listed as high- or medium-skilled (Regulated Qualifications Framework 3 – RQF3 – and above); and

c) speak English.

For most jobs you will need to be paid more than £25,600 starting salary, although if the job is listed on the Migration Advisory Committee’s shortage occupation list then this changes to £20,480. Childcare professions are not currently listed on the shortage occupation list.


This is a fundamental change to the UK labour market, and the Government’s timescale means employers will need to adapt to the new system in less than ten months. 

The Recruitment & Employment Confederation and other business organisations have called on the Government to introduce a temporary work visa to help employers find the people they need. We propose that this visa isn’t linked to an employer and that successful applicants can stay and work in the UK for two years.

Businesses and recruiters are experiencing skills shortages across sectors, skills levels and regions. These shortages have been growing for many years, predating Brexit.

The current recruitment challenges for the early years sector are well-documented. The NDNA 2018/19 Workforce Survey outlines the difficulties employers currently have in recruiting for the sector, as well as the high levels of staff turnover. It is difficult to see how the future immigration system will help address this issue. It could easily make the situation worse.


One positive piece of news is that the Government has said occupations listed as ‘childminders and related professions’ will be added to the list of high- and medium-skilled occupations. This means all early years professionals will be able to be sponsored by an employer under the new system if they meet the other criteria. 

However, this might not be as good for the sector as it sounds. The average salary for early years professions is less than £20,857, with low numbers of full-time employees. While it is possible to sponsor for part-time roles, the salary thresholds are not pro-rated. The future immigration system also has no route for the self-employed.

It’s highly unlikely that employers of early years professionals will currently have a sponsor licence, and asking parents who hire au pairs to hold a sponsor licence would be, frankly, ridiculous. 

It is estimated that au pair applications from the EU have fallen by 70 per cent since the Brexit referendum. While the UK is looking to secure a Youth Mobility Scheme with the EU, this is subject to the ongoing negotiations. It is also likely that the scheme would be limited in scope and require applicants to have £1,890 in their bank accounts, matching schemes the UK has with other countries. 

It is not surprising that there is a campaign calling for an Au Pair Visa – but we would prefer that the Government did not go down a sector-by-sector route
on immigration.

The Government has argued that instead of EU workers, vacant roles will need to be filled by UK nationals, or automated in the future. They have argued that increasing pay will attract more people to roles that are currently hard to fill. 


It’s a bit of a stretch to argue that robots should be looking after our children. But if the Government is determined to fill gaps in the labour market with UK workers then there are several steps they can take.  

A recent report from the National Centre for Social Research outlined several barriers to recruitment, including low pay, low status, inadequate qualifications and limited flexibility. Professionalising the early years workforce and enhancing the status of the early years sector is important, as is addressing the issue of low pay. But if the Government is serious
about addressing low pay and having a well-qualified workforce then they need to increase funding for nurseries. 

The end of freedom of movement from the EU will exacerbate the recruitment problems of the sector. We ask that the Government provides a temporary work visa so the negative impact is reduced. But they must also consider how to ensure more UK citizens pursue a career in early years. Identifying progression routes to help keep people in the sector is also a must. 

Chris Russell is a policy adviser at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), the trade body for about 3,300 recruitment agencies, many of which operate in early years. He leads on REC’s policy work on immigration, childcare, skills and Brexit. He develops REC’s policy in these areas and advocates these positions to the Government.

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