• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Japa: More than 18,000 Nigerian care workers left for UK amid labour shortage

A total of 18,143 care workers and home carers left Nigeria to seek employment in the United Kingdom in 2023 a new report by the British government has revealed.

The updated immigration data, released Thursday, reveals that Nigeria joined India and Zimbabwe as the non-EU countries with the most care workers and home carers in the UK, representing 58% of all approved visas for the occupation.

Between 2022 and 2023, the care worker occupation in the UK experienced a huge leap in workforce. As of 2022, when foreign care workers and home carers had just become eligible for the ‘Skilled Worker Health and Care’ visa after a recommendation by the Migration Advisory Committee, there were only 19,864 visas granted to practice.

However, the number skyrocketed 349 percent in one year, and by 2023, the UK had granted about 90,000 work visas to care workers and home carers. In 12 months, it had seen about 70,000 new applications flood in.

Recent figures show that the ‘Skilled Worker Health and Care’ visas granted almost doubled in 2023, representing a 91 percent increase to 146,477, compared with the previous year.

Care workers and home carers accounted for the vast majority of the increase accounting for 89,236 grants in 2023.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is one of the countries deemed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to have a critical shortage of health workers. In recent years, nationals of the Western African state have gained popularity, leaving footprints worldwide following an exodus of skilled workers, popularly called ‘japa’, a Yoruba indigenous word meaning “escape”.

Nigeria’s caregiving industry, still at its infant stage and largely unregulated, was estimated to be worth $9 billion in 2019 and projected to triple by 2021, according to Chika Madubuko, founder of Greymate Care – a startup using tech to disrupt the country’s homecare industry by connecting clients with vetted caregivers.

However, in a situation where labour shortages in prospering economies coexist with unemployment in less-fortunate ones, Nigeria has been hit hard by a healthcare workforce deficit, fuelled by post-pandemic policies.

In 2020, Britain decided to part with the EU, and in the same year, established the ‘Health and Care’ visa route for health workers to come to the UK, contributing to a sharp increase in the number of work visas granted.

According to the Labour Force Survey statistics, the number of non-EU nationals working in the UK rose 12% to 2.29 million in one year, with Nigeria experiencing the greatest increase in skilled work visa grants.

Amid spiralling figures, however, there are some indications that the growth rate has slowed and that the numbers are declining.

In the fourth quarter of 2023, the number of skilled visa grants saw a significant decline, dropping by 37 percent to 28,467 compared to the previous quarter, Q3 2023. This decrease was observed across all primary occupations, particularly impacting health and care workers.

Specifically, the number of skilled visa grants for care workers and home carers decreased by 41 percent, while senior care workers and nurses experienced a similar decline of 41 and 24 percent respectively during the same period.

Global think tanks still see a win-win situation for the UK’s workforce troubles and Nigeria’s brain drain problems. Center for Global Development, a non-profit global advocacy organisation says both governments must work together to maximise benefits for both countries.

“There would be an even greater development benefit if migration was channelled through a bilateral labour agreement,” they said.

“If health worker migration is to take place from these countries, the WHO recommends it be included within an agreement which encourages the country of destination to provide additional investments back to the country of origin. The UK could develop such an agreement with Nigeria, similar to the one with Kenya, investing in the recruitment and retention of health workers at home, with huge spillover effects.”

In February, Britain and Nigeria signed a new deal to grow bilateral trade and investment relationships and create jobs in financial and legal sectors across both economies.

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