Immigration rules set to cause NHS “chaos”, says nursing union

22 Jun 15

Government changes to UK immigration rules could “cause chaos” in the NHS and cost the health service millions of pounds, the Royal College of Nursing has warned today.

From April next year, immigration rules will require people from outside the European Economic Area (European Union states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) who have lived in the UK for more than six years to earn at least £35,000 a year in order to qualify for leave to remain.
The RCN said this change could force thousands of nurses who are earning less than the minimum threshold to return to their home countries, putting additional pressure on NHS staff levels.

The union called on the Home Office to add nursing to the list of shortage occupations and to reconsider the £35,000 salary threshold. The earnings level can be waived if official advisers tell ministers that the UK needs more workers for particular occupations.

RCN said the new rule, which could see up to 3,365 nurses deported, leaving hospitals with “nothing to show” for £20m spent on recruiting them.

In order to address the shortages of nurses, the RCN also called on the government to increase the number of training places to reduce the reliance on overseas staff in the longer term.

General secretary Peter Carter said the UK risked sending away nurses who had built up their skills and knowledge in the NHS, which was “completely illogical” and would leave trusts being asked to provide safe staffing with both hands tied behind their backs.

“The immigration rules for health care workers will cause chaos for the NHS and other care services,” he added.

“At a time when demand is increasing, the UK is perversely making it harder to employ staff from overseas. The NHS has spent millions hiring nurses from overseas in order to provide safe staffing levels. These rules will mean that money has just been thrown down the drain.”

Responding to the RCN, a Home Office spokesman said that Prime Minister David Cameron had made clear that the government wanted to reduce the demand for migrant labour.

“We changed the settlement rules in 2011 to break the link between coming to work in the UK and staying here permanently,” he stated.

“From 2016, non-EEA workers will need to earn at least £35,000 to settle in the UK for longer than six years. There are exemptions to this threshold for occupations where the UK has a shortage – but the independent Migration Advisory Committee recommended against adding nurses to the shortage occupation list after taking evidence from groups including the Royal College of Nursing.

“Employers have had since 2011 to prepare for the possibility their non-European Economic Area workers may not meet the required salary threshold to remain in the UK permanently.”

  • Judith Ugwumadu

    Judith Ugwumadu joined Public Finance International and Public Finance online as a reporter after stints at Financial Adviser, Global Security Finance and The Sunday Express. Currently, she writes about public finance, public services and economics.

    Follow her on @JudithUgwumadu_

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