24 Oct 2016, 41 mins ago

The Royal College of Nursing has warned the government that new immigration rules, which will lead to lower-earning non-EU workers being deported, will exacerbate the shortage of nurses in the UK and cost the NHS tens of millions in recruitment.

Under the new rules, due to come into effect in April 2016, non-EU workers who are earning less than £35,000 after six years in the UK will be deported. Research released by the RCN suggests that 3,365 nurses, who cost £20.19m to recruit, could be affected; a figure that could spiral by 2020, particularly if workforce pressures lead to increased international recruitment.

The rules, part of home secretary Theresa May’s plan to “ensure that the only the brightest and the best remain permanently”, will apply to all people in the UK from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). While there are exemptions to the £35,000 salary threshold for occupations where the UK has a shortage, the independent Migration Advisory Committee recommended against adding nurses to the shortage occupation list. The Royal College of Nursing has since urged the Home Office to add nurses to the list of shortage occupations and reconsider the salary threshold.

The Royal College of Nursing’s chief executive Peter Carter said: “At a time when demand is increasing, the UK is perversely making it harder to employ staff from overseas”.

A Home Office spokesman said: “As the prime minister has made clear, the government wants to reduce the demand for migrant labour. Employers have had since 2011 to prepare for the possibility that their non-EEA workers may not meet the required salary threshold to remain in the UK permanently”

Nursing shortages and spiralling agency costs have generated intense pressure on hospital finances in recent years. On the one hand the RCN is suggesting that the Government is shooting itself in the foot by pursuing a policy, which could threaten the supply of healthcare workers even further. The other side of the debate is the suggestion that the UK should train more home grown nurses and not rely so heavily on migrant staff. The tighter immigration rules do not effect recruitment from inside the EEA, so there will still be a supply of trained foreign health staff.