RCN congress

Nurses demand rethink of immigration rules for non-EU nurses

Nurses have voted in favour of a resolution calling on the UK government to withdraw plans for the enforced removal of non-EU nurses if they are not earning at least £35,000 after six years.

Sarah Waters. Picture credit: John HoulihanSarah Waters. Picture credit: John Houlihan

During a debate at RCN congress in Bournemouth, 99% of nurses supported the resolution, which was submitted by RCN South Birmingham branch member Sarah Waters.

She warned that changes to immigration rules ­– due to come into effect in April next year – will mean any overseas nurse who is not earning above the £35,000 threshold after being here for six years will have to return to their home country.

She said the solution is either to increase nurses' salaries so as to ensure the threshold is met, or to include nursing posts on the Home Office's official Shortage Occupation List. She said 'whole families could be uprooted and even split up' as a result of the change in rules.

She told delegates that 17% of nurses in the north east could be affected, 18% in the north west, 34% in the south east and nearly half (46%) in London could have to leave the UK under the new policy to be introduced next year.

'It really frightens me,' she said. 'We need to support this resolution and tell the government it cannot enact this, otherwise how can we fill that chasm of work undertaken by our amazing international nurses?'

Lothian branch member Susan Lloyd said the government's plans are 'morally and ethically wrong' in order to 'address what is an immigration issue'.

She added: 'It is imperative that RCN congress sends a clear message to the government that nurses up and down the country value a multicultural society. I value a multicultural profession, and not just the nurses earning above £35,000.'

Hertfordshire branch member Laura Falconer said the rules are 'disgusting, deplorable, inhumane and unacceptable', adding that despite the changes due to come in next year, NHS organisations are continuing to recruit nurses from overseas because of a perpetual workforce planning issue.

The debate followed what was RCN general secretary Peter Carter's final congress speech before stepping down next month. Speaking about the new immigration policy, he said: 'Trusts are already finding it difficult to recruit enough staff and the nursing shortage is about to get even worse.'

He said the rules will force thousands of nurses to leave the UK in 2017.

'Across the country, health services rely on the good work they do,' he said. 'Yet after spending time and money recruiting them, after investing in their training, after supporting them to become valued members of staff, employers will have to let them go and find someone else to do their work.'

He said the 'illogical rules' could mean that by 2020 up to 30,000 nurses will be sent home.

Picture credit: John HoulihanPicture credit: John Houlihan