NICOLA Sturgeon has said excluding social care workers from the UK Government's new immigration scheme will have a potentially "devastating impact".

The First Minister said the move risks sending the message "that we're not grateful for the contribution that they have made" during the coronavirus crisis and beyond. 

Some NHS health professionals, including social workers, will be able to apply for a specific health and care visa but this route will not be open to care workers, Downing Street has confirmed.

It forms part of UK immigration reforms designed to cut the number of low-skilled migrants entering the country from the beginning of next year.

The post-Brexit plans also aim to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to obtain UK visas.

Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, has already branded the move a "slap in the face" for the sector.

With between six and eight per cent of social care workers in Scotland coming from other parts of the EU, Ms Sturgeon spoke about staff who "do us the honour of coming to Scotland from overseas to work".

Speaking during her daily coronavirus briefing, she said: "The immigration approach that they [the UK Government] are taking, particularly around social care, risks doing huge practical damage to our economy and huge practical damage to sections of our society, like social care.

"But they also risk sending a message that I never want to be sent from Scotland, that we somehow don't want other people to come, once we are out of this pandemic, from other countries to live and settle here and make a contribution or that somehow we don't value the contribution that they make.

"Because nothing could be further from the truth. We're all living under restrictions none of us relish at the moment, but that doesn't change the fact that Scotland is an open, welcoming country and I think the vast majority of people would want us always to be so and never want to see a message sent from the UK Government that contradicts that in any way."

Ms Sturgeon added: "In my view, it is essential that care home workers are included in any scheme for post-Brexit work visas.

"The Scottish Government will continue to make strong representations on that point to the UK Government."

Ms Sturgeon argued "excluding social care workers from the ability to apply for a health and care visa to come and work here is sending the wrong message and is sending message that we don't hugely appreciate the work of those staff".

The First Minister added: "Donald Macaskill did say it was a slap in the face, that was his terminology, but I don't think he is wrong that that is the message it risks sending.

"And I would hope the UK Government, who I am sure would not want to send that message, I hope they will reflect on the risk they are running there."