The concerns of NHS chiefs over changes to the UK Tier 2 immigration rules have been put forward in a letter sent to the Home Office. A report published by the Nursing Times says that many Tier 2 visa applications of nurses recruited from outside the European Union are being refused.
Additionally, some non-EU NHS nurses are resigning as a consequence of new immigration rules, which would see them having to leave the country, as of April 2016, if their yearly salary is less than £35,000 and they've been in Britain for six years.
Obtaining Tier 2 visas is increasingly difficult. Not only do employees need Tier 2 visas, but also employers need to have a Tier 2 Sponsorship licence. It can be difficult to keep your Tier 2 sponsorship licence. There have even been reports of the Home Office producing falsified documentation to support revocation of sponsorship licences. In addition, somewhat bizarrely, the OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) appears to have become involved in the Governments attempts to reduce net immigration to the UK.
Tier 2 Visa Shortage Occupation List
The decision of the Migration Advisory Committee not to include nursing on the Shortage Occupation List back in February prompted NHS chiefs to send UK immigration minister, James Brokenshire, the letter.
Exclusion from the Shortage Occupation List leaves non-EU nurses coming under the general pool of Tier 2 visa applicants restricted to a total of 20,700 visas annually.
A clinical director at an NHS hospital in London revealed that nurses were already quitting and taking up employment opportunities in the private sector for increased salaries in the hope that this will enable them to remain in the UK
The clinical director said: "It's a massive blow to us. London relies on nurses with Tier 2 work permits to keep NHS operations running. It's really difficult to recruit nurses in the current climate because of high living costs in London. Our hospital has already lost two nurses in quick succession to the private sector as they seek to avoid the £35,000 salary threshold."
He went onto say: "It will be disastrous if the government allows these rules to go through. Even rumours of the threshold will lead to nurses leaving the NHS out of fear."
NHS recruiters and individual NHS Trusts have warned the Department of Health and the Home Office that unless the immigration rules and the Tier 2 visa Shortage Occupation List are changed, the NHS will struggle to recruit nurses for vacant posts.
Planned staffing levels not met
A report issued by the Nursing Times in July revealed that 83% of NHS trusts did not meet their own planned staffing levels for nurses, despite recruiting a large number of foreign nationals. This is due to a lack of applicants from within the UK.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: "Refusing the Tier 2 visa applications of non-EU nurses while telling us those within the EU continue to be recruited is of concern to us. These concerns have been expressed in writing to the Department of Health and the Home Office."
Mortimer added: "We understand that it's a struggle for many NHS organisations to recruit and employing from overseas offers a medium term solution while they implement plans to train new nurses. Employers will have exhausted all other options prior to searching overseas."
A Midlands Trust chief executive stated that UK immigration policy 'makes no sense' in light of the continuous struggles the NHS faces to recruit the necessary numbers of qualified skilled workers. He went onto say: "The approach to immigration in the UK is very concerning. There's already a massive staff void across the NHS, now we face losing experienced personnel too. The government needs to rethink its policies."
A spokesperson for the Home Office said that they would not be commenting on private correspondence, and instead referred to the immigration rules. The spokesperson said: "Historically, it has been made too easy for some employers to recruit foreign nationals as an alternative to training home-grown nurses."
The Home Office added: "Exemptions apply to this threshold for occupations where there is genuine shortage. However, the advice of the Migration Advisory Committee was to exclude nurses from the Shortage Occupation List based on evidence gathered from numerous NHS trusts and other representative bodies. Non-EU, Tier 2 visa applications will continue to be monitored; however, there are no immediate plans to change the limit."