Immigration rules 'to be eased to allow NHS to recruit more staff'

The move adds to growing pressure on Theresa May to ditch her party's goal of limiting annual net migration to the 'tens of thousands'

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 14 June 2018 01:19
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Sajid Javid admits 'problem' with counting foreign students in targets to lower immigration

Immigration rules capping the number of foreign doctors and nurses working in the UK are set to be relaxed to allow the NHS to recruit more staff, Downing Street has confirmed.

Sajid Javid, the home secretary, has set out plans to remove overseas medical staff from the annual cap on skilled workers coming to the UK from Friday, currently limited to 20,700 “tier 2” visas per year.

The removal of medical staff from the cap will create more space for other skilled migrants to work in the UK, such as engineers and teachers.

The move adds to growing pressure on Theresa May to ditch her party’s goal of limiting annual net migration to the “tens of thousands” – a target The Independent has been campaigning to remove.

It also shows the gap between Mr Javid and the prime minister, who was known for her tough stance on immigration when she headed up the Home Office.

Ms May has refused to roll back her controversial “hostile environment” crackdown – despite Mr Javid indicating that he would review the policies to curb illegal immigration, which were blamed for British citizens facing threats of deportation during the Windrush scandal.

The prime minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “The PM will in due course be setting out our long term plan for the NHS.

“An important part of that is making sure that the NHS has more highly skilled doctors and nurses to deliver outstanding patient care.

“What we will be announcing is that doctors and nurses are being excluded from the cap on skilled working visas. That means more staff on hospital wards, higher standards and safer patient care.”

The Home Office will lay the regulations before parliament on Friday, which will come into force immediately, and will be dictated by need, the PM’s spokesman said.

Announcing the plans, Mr Javid said: “I recognise the pressures faced by the NHS and other sectors in recent months. Doctors and nurses play a vital role in society and at this time we need more in the UK. That is why I have reviewed our skilled worker visa route.

“This is about finding a solution to increased demand and to support our essential national services.”

It comes in the wake of pressure from doctor and nurse leaders, as well as senior NHS figures, with family doctors warning of a “desperate need” to ease pressures on the health service.

In a letter to Mr Javid, the head of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) said there were concerning cases where foreign GPs had been affected by the “hostile environment” policies first introduced by Ms May, while she was at the Home Office.

More than 1,500 doctors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) had visa applications refused between December 2017 and March 2018, according to the British Medical Journal.

Earlier this month, Mr Javid signalled there could be a softer approach to immigration policy under his leadership at the Home Office, including looking again at the cap on “tier 2 visas”.

“Currently around one third of all tier 2 places go to the NHS and there are now record numbers working in the NHS,” he added.

He also admitted there was a “perception problem” with including foreign students within the cap, in another apparent softening of the stance.

Campaigners and MPs welcomed the decision to scrap the visa cap for medical staff but urged ministers to go further by putting an end to their “arbitrary immigration target”.

Home Affairs Committee chair, Yvette Cooper, said: “This is the right decision. For months doctors and nurses the NHS needs have been turned away – including over 1,500 doctors with job offers already. The Home Affairs Committee raised this repeatedly with the Home Office so it is welcome that they have acted.

“But there are now so many problems with the immigration system, the home secretary must not stop here. The net migration target regime just isn’t working and should be replaced – including by removing students from the target straight away.”

Labour MP Dr Paul Williams, a supporter of the pro-EU People’s Vote group, said: “It’s time we dropped the arbitrary immigration target and instead had a sensible and serious debate about the benefits and necessity of immigration and about how we can address the social dislocation and stresses it has caused in some communities.

“But what is really damaging the NHS today is the loss of staff from other EU member countries ahead of Brexit.”

Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said: “If these changes are as reported, businesses will welcome these reforms as a good first move. International skills and talent are a core foundation of the global Britain employers want to help build.

“A successful migration system should focus on people’s contribution to the UK economy and society, not numbers. Until our immigration system is reformed to reflect this, including scrapping the net migration target, businesses will continue to struggle to get the people they need to create jobs and growth.”

The Independent, along with the pro-EU Open Britain group, has been running the Drop the Target campaign to scrap the “tens of thousands” net migration policy.

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