It has recently been revealed that between November 2017 and April 2018 more than 2,300 doctors from outside the European Economic Area (“EEA”) were denied the chance to work in the NHS following refusals of their Tier 2 (General) visa applications.
It is claimed that this is the direct result of the Government’s imposed cap on the Tier 2 visa scheme. In 2011 Theresa May, then the Home Secretary, introduced an annual cap of 20,700 Tier 2 visas for non-EEA skilled workers, with a fixed number of spaces available each month. However, it was revealed that the NHS in England alone is short of nearly 10,000 doctors. Those recently refused Tier 2 visas have included GPs, psychiatrists and cancer specialists. Hospitals across the country have confirmed that these restrictions are a major obstacle to filling a significant number of available vacancies for these specialists and stated that failure to recruit doctors from outside the EEA would have a detrimental effect on patients’ safety by inevitably leading to longer waiting times for consultation and treatment. They have also argued that in order to tackle the NHS’s deepening workforce crisis, the imposed annual cap on skilled workers allowed to work in the UK should not be applied to medical staff.
In response to the continuous pressure from NHS organisations and various medical groups, together with private lobbying from a number of prominent Members of Parliament, the Home Office has admitted that the current situation is unacceptable and agreed to relax existing immigration policy creating a separate route of admission to work in the UK for non-EEA medical staff. More details of the new immigration system in respect of foreign medical staff are due to be announced shortly.
Apparently the proposed changes would also apply to nurses, as they have already been classed as a shortage occupation by the Home Office’s immigration advisory committee. Thus the Government appear to have accepted that nurses as well as doctors should be treated differently to other skilled migrants, at least on a temporary basis, until the situation surrounding staff shortages in the NHS has improved.
The above proposals have been welcomed by NHS representatives. Saffron Cordery, Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts in England stated that: “If reports that the cap will be lifted for doctors are true, it will be a welcome relief to trusts in addressing immediate staff shortages, to help ensure safe, high quality care”.
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