UK immigration temporarily eases tier 2 visa requirements for NHS
Posted on October 23, 2015
Restrictions on recruiting non-EU nurses have been temporarily relaxed by the UK government. The decision to make it easier for nurses to be employed under the tier 2 visa scheme was made to help ease the pressure on the NHS.
UK Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “The nursing profession is being added to the Shortage Occupation List, which enables employers to recruit personnel from outside the European Union more easily.” Mr Hunt went on to add that “safe staffing” across UK hospitals and care facilities is a ‘crucial priority’; safe staffing is the term used by the NHS for their policy to try and make sure that there are enough suitably trained and qualified nurses and other health care professionals to properly look after patients.
Easier tier 2 visa requirements for nurses a temporary measure
The addition of nurses to the tier 2 visa shortage occupation list, announced on 15 October 2015, is a temporary measure put in place to try and ensure that the NHS can recruit the nurses needed to look after patients. Relaxing the tier 2 visa rules means that the NHS will be less reliant on agencies that may charge high fees, which last year cost the UK taxpayer billions of pounds.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) – an independent public body that advises UK immigration on immigration issues, and the Shortage Occupation List – said that they have been asked by the Government to review whether nurses should be included on the shortage occupation list on a permanent basis. The review will lead to MAC making recommendations to the government by 16 February 2016.
In September 2015, the NHS Employers Organisation along with the heads of 10 NHS trusts said that a shortage of nurses from non-EU nations, caused by the government’s tier 2 immigration rules, would be ‘felt acutely’ during the winter months.
However, at the time of these comments, the Home Office stated that existing tier 2 certificates of sponsorships allocated to employers to enable them to bring in nurses to the UK on a tier 2 visas had not been fully used. A spokesperson for the government body said: “Over 1,400 tier 2 certificates of sponsorship for nurses have been issued to NHS trusts since April this year. However, more than 600 of those places allocated for April and May  have been returned unused.”
It is important to note that just because not all the certifications of sponsorship were utilised does not mean that there is not a shortage of nurses. For example it could very well be the case that an NHS employer was simply unable to find enough nurses for their needs.
What do the Tier 2 visa interim changes mean?
For nurses outside of the European Economic Area, it means that those applying for a tier 2 visa to work in the UK will, as long as they meet the usual requirements to work as a nurse in the UK, in almost all cases gain enough points under the Tier 2 points based system for immigration to the UK. Additionally, this now means that there are an unlimited number of Tier 2 General visas for nurses sponsored by an UKemployer with a Tier 2 sponsorship licence.
In 2011, an annual immigration cap of 20,700 tier 2 general visas was introduced for non-EU workers, except for those in occupations on the Shortage Occupation List. In 2014-15, around one quarter of visas under the cap were taken up for healthcare roles. Occupations on the Tier 2 shortage occupation list do not come under the cap.