Skills flight: UK care work visas to Zimbabweans up 170% this year

The number of Zimbabweans who moved to the United Kingdom to do health and care work rose by 169% in the year to September, deepening the skills crisis in the country.

Migration is rising as Zimbabweans seek refuge from high inflation and unemployment. Critical workers such as healthcare professionals and teachers are among those leaving in numbers, escaping poor pay and work conditions at home. Numbers from the UK’s latest immigration data show the depth of the crisis.

In the 12 months to September, a total of 21,130 Zimbabweans were given visas to work in the UK health system. That’s 13,284 more Zimbabweans than in the year to September last year, a 169% increase. Zimbabwe was one of three countries that had the largest number of their people getting into the UK on this visa. The others are India and Nigeria. Both have vastly larger populations than Zimbabwe, which reflects the depth of the loss that Zimbabwe is suffering. Nigeria experienced the most significant percentage increase, followed by Zimbabwe and India.

Of the 21,130 Zimbabweans who went into health care, a total of 16,619 went it as care workers and home carers. The rest are spread in other areas of the health sector in the UK. In the year to September, according to the figures, ‘Care workers and home carers’ accounted for over half (58%) of the ‘Skilled Worker – Health and Care’ visas granted by the UK. Many Zimbabweans are taking their families along, and visas for dependents are also recorded. The number of people accompanying relatives who are on the ‘Skilled Worker’ visa rose by 232% from 6,701 in September 2022 to 22,235 in September this year.

Last year, the UK eased entry rules to close skills shortages caused by Brexit and coronavirus. Many Zimbabweans see care work as the most viable route to enter the UK. In October, the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society, St. John Ambulance Association and privately-run Cimas Medical Aid reported a sharp rise in the number of people enrolling for short nursing-aid courses.

Government’s own data shows that Zimbabweans are leaving their country in record numbers. According to a Zimstat report last year, there was a “steady increase” in the number of emigrants between 2001 to 2015, and then a sharp increase that peaked in 2021. Showing the loss of skills, the Zimstat data showed that professionals, service and sales workers and craft and related trades workers accounted for 58% of the emigrants.