Breaking: UK Home secretary lifts controls on nurse immigration

Breaking: UK Home secretary lifts controls on nurse immigration

Immigration controls on nurses working in the UK will be relaxed immediately after an intervention by the home secretary, it has been revealed.

Theresa May will today write to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) asking it to place nursing on the shortage occupation list and to carry out a review over whether this should continue in the long term.

This will mean nurses from non-EU countries will no longer run the risk of having their visas rejected, while non-EU nurses earning less than £35,000 a year who have been in the UK for six years will not have to leave the country from April 2016.

The change follows increasing concern from NHS providers and national officials that non-EU nurse visas have been refused because of immigration restrictions.

In a statement provided to Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Safe staffing across all our hospitals and care homes is a crucial priority.

“The temporary changes announced today will ensure the NHS has the nurses it needs to deliver the highest standards of care without having to rely on rip-off staffing agencies that cost the taxpayer billions of pounds a year,” he said.

Without the change announced today non-EU nurses would continue to join the general pool of non-EU visa applicants hoping to receive one of the 20,700 visas available each year.

NHS Employers has lobbied the Home Office and Department of Health over the immigration rules.

In a letter to Ms May last month, NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said immigration controls were “hindering our ability to provide the right number of staff on our wards to deliver high quality care to our patients”.

Approximately 750 visa applications a month are thought to have been refused for non-EU nurses during recent months as NHS trusts try to bolster their staffing levels with overseas recruitment.

The NHS is struggling with a national shortage of nurses following increased demand prompted by the 2013 Francis inquiry. Demand for qualified nurses increased by 21,000 in just 12 months last year.

As previously reported byNursing Times, there are concerns that some NHS nurses have resigned from their jobs to work in the private sector to avoid the £35,000 cutoff that would force them to leave the country.

Earlier this month, Central Manchester Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which had planned to recruit 275 nurses from India, said it ran into delays caused by “pre-employment and migration processes”.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens criticised the rules in a speech last week. He said the rules needed a “rethink” and the UK needed to “better join the dots” between immigration policy and the NHS.

Responding to today’s move, the Royal College of Nursing described it as a “real victory for nurses”.

Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “Since the RCN first raised this issue and lobbied for a change to the immigration rules, a consensus has formed across the health service that cutting the supply of overseas nurses risked patient care.

“The government must now extend this common sense approach to the issue of training and retaining more nurses in the long-term and significantly increasing student nurse training places so that patients in the UK are no longer at the mercy of global workforce trends.”

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