Government bows to pressure and puts nursing on shortage list for visas

Home secretary Theresa May has asked for nursing to be given priority when visas are given to overseas workers. 

The government has today bowed to pressure from leading NHS organisations and unions and given nursing priority status when overseas recruits apply to work in the UK. 

The Department of Health has announced that nurses have been temporarily placed on the shortage occupancy list, which means nurses from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will be prioritised when they apply to get the certificates of sponsorship they need to work here. 

Home secretary Theresa May has written to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which advises the government on which overseas workers should be allowed to come to the UK, telling it to place nursing on the list.

The change is subject to a review by MAC, who will present evidence to the Home Office on whether nursing should remain on the list by next February.

It also means non-EEA nurses who have worked here for six years and are earning less than £35,000 a year will no longer lose their visa rights, as had previously been announced.

The government intervention follows a host of organisations, including the RCN, NHS Employers, Unison and the Care Quality Commission, joining forces to call for nursing to be given priority status ahead of anticipated winter pressures on the health service. 

At the end of last month, they wrote a joint letter to MAC calling for a rethink and just last week NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said nurses were struggling to understand ‘why our immigration rules define ballet dancers as a shortage occupation, but not nursing’.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies today said: ‘This reversal is a real victory for nurses, the health service and most of all patients. 

‘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.’

MAC did not add nursing to the list when it held a review in February, because it said it had not received enough evidence of a national shortage in nursing. 

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said ‘safe staffing across all our hospitals and care homes is a crucial priority’.

He added: ‘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 the government has invested in the workforce with a record 50,000 nurses in training. 

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the government has ‘realised just how much the NHS relies on its migrant nurses’ and that it is ‘essential that nurses remain on the list for the foreseeable future’. 

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) chief executive Jackie Smith said the change could prompt a significant increase in the numbers of overseas-trained nurses wishing to join the NMC register.

She added: ‘We are confident that we have the resources and capacity to process an increased volume of applications over the coming months.

‘Once we have all the completed documentation we aim to process applications from non-EU trained nurses within 70 days and we are currently meeting that target. We will monitor this timescale carefully to ensure that we are continuing to meet expectations.’


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