‘Massive relief’ for NHS as government confirms visa exemptions will remain

Home secretary says there are ‘no plans’ to review Tier 2 rules

Experts have welcomed official confirmation that the easing of Tier 2 visa requirements for medical staff will continue, allowing the NHS to recruit nurses and doctors from outside the EU into crucial positions.

On Friday, home secretary Sajid Javid said he had no intention of reintroducing an immigration cap for doctors arriving from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), after initially suggesting the limits were only “temporary” and would need to be reviewed.

“Let me be clear: whilst all immigration rules kept under review, I have no plans to remove the exemption,” he tweeted.  

The move was immediately welcomed by the medical profession. Medical recruitment consultancy Remedium Partners, which had previously told People Management the easing of Tier 2 was a “massive relief” for employers, said the continued exemption was crucial.

“From our perspective, this change in the visa system has helped many more permanent doctors bring their skills and experience to the NHS faster, especially in crucial non-shortage occupations such as general medicine, acute medicine, anaesthetics and ICU.

“Overall, this is a positive development for international doctors coming to the UK. However, there are other areas – such as the recently announced international health surcharge increase – which could cause long-term issues for hiring of overseas staff in the NHS.”

Doctors and nurses were exempted from the visa limits in June, which meant they were not included in a cap of 20,700 annual restricted certificates of sponsorship (RCOS) for Tier 2 (General) visas applied to employees from outside the EU. The move came after a campaign from the medical profession to help tackle urgent talent shortages.

“I recognise the pressures faced by the NHS and other sectors in recent months,” Javid said at the time. “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.”

The move has had the broader effect of reducing the salary requirements for Tier 2 across the board. Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK, said: “When the NHS workers were removed from the cap, there was an immediate reduction in the minimum salary required to meet the required number of points to qualify. 

“Prior to NHS workers being removed, the salary required to qualify for a vacancy under the cap in June was around £60,000. This dropped to around £41,000 in July and then £30,000 in August and September,” he added.

“The continued exemption is extremely welcome and we are hopeful that the government decide to accept the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) recommendation that the annual cap is removed altogether – for all sponsored workers.”

In late September, three months after the visa rules were relaxed, official data from UK Visas and Immigration showed that every applicant scoring at least 21 points – the minimum required under the Tier 2 system – was allocated a Restricted Certificate Of Sponsorship (RCOS). Prior to the change, workers needed to score at least 60 points.

This weekend, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock – who recently said he was “absolutely shocked” by the level of spending on agency staff in the NHS – said “discussions were underway” about the potential for a special post-Brexit visa arrangement for nursing.