Recent immigration changes welcomed by the NHS

Recent immigration changes welcomed by the NHS

The changes enable the NHS to hire medical practitioners and nurses from outside of the EU without being restricted by Government enforced caps on migrant worker numbers.

What are the current rules?

Under current immigration rules, the Government caps the number of non-EU skilled workers coming into the UK under the Tier 2 general category at 20,700 a year, with variable monthly quotas in place to ensure this limit is not exceeded.

Businesses who wish to recruit non-EU skilled workers must not only have a Tier 2 sponsor licence, but are also required to apply for a ‘Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship’ for each vacancy they wish to open to workers coming from outside of the EU. However, when these monthly restrictions are met, employers who have not been able to recruit are then required to re-apply for the Certificates in the next month, and in some cases have to re-advertise.

Prior to December 2017, this quota had only been exceeded once. But as demand for non-EU labour has seen an unprecedented increase, this quota has now been filled consecutively over the last six months. From December 2017 to April 2018, over 8,000 of the nearly 17,000 requests for Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship have been refused.

What’s more, analysis shows this demand is not likely to fall anytime soon, particularly as we enter the summer months and businesses look to recruit graduates to commence contracts in September.

Why does this particularly affect the NHS?

With a large shortage of skills in the UK healthcare sector, the NHS is heavily reliant on migrant labour to fill vacancies for trained doctors and nurses. As the number of skilled migrants from the EU looking to work in the UK has declined for a variety of reasons, including the impact of the EU referendum, the NHS has increasingly had to look to recruit outside of the EU.

The current cap on recruitment of skilled overseas workers has exacerbated this skills shortage, leading to the British Medical Association declaring the rules unsuitable for the NHS and ultimately “threatening patient care and safety”.

What are the announced changes and what do they mean for the sector?

The latest announcements have sought to address these issues and enable the NHS and the healthcare sector as a whole to recruit workers more effectively.

From 6 July 2018, medical practitioners and nurses are to be removed from the ‘Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship’ process. While restrictions on advertising will still be in place, these roles will no longer be subject to a monthly cap on the number of workers they can recruit from outside of the EU.

Further, the 700 certificates previously allocated to medical practitioners and nurses will now become available for other skilled professionals. This will enable increased recruitment of non-EU skilled labour in other industries outside of the healthcare sector.

Whilst these changes have been seen as a welcome positive step for the NHS in the short-term, concerns over recruitment in the sector in the long-term remain. With the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) warning that the impact of Brexit on the number of skilled migrant workers in the UK is not expected until September 2018, only time will tell.