Nurses recruited from outside the EU are having their visa applications to work in the NHS rejected and new immigration rules are prompting some NHS nurses to resign, HSJ has been told.

  • NHS Employers and trusts have expressed concern over new immigration policy
  • Non-EU nurses earning less than £35,000 may have to leave the country
  • Hospitals already struggling to fill nurse vacancies

NHS Employers has written to the Home Office expressing concerns over changes to immigration rules which will mean non-EU nurses earning less than £35,000 a year, and who have been in the UK for six years, will have to leave the country from April next year.

HSJ understands the letter was sent to immigration minister James Brokenshire and follows the decision by the Migration Advisory Committee in February not to add nursing to the shortage occupation list.

This will mean non-EU nurses will join the general pool of non-EU workforce visa applicants hoping to receive one of the 20,700 visas available each year.

One clinical director at a London NHS hospital told HSJ nurses were already leaving their jobs to work in the private sector, in order to earn more than £35,000 and prevent deportation.

They said: “This is a big risk for us. In London we rely on nurses on work permits to keep our service running. We find it difficult to recruit and retain nurses due to the high cost of living in London. We have already lost two nurses to the private sector to avoid the £35,000 limit.

“It will be a complete disaster if the government allows this to go through. Even the rumour of it is going to make our nurses leave out of fear.”

NHS Employers and individual trusts have told the Department of Health and the Home Office that unless there is a rethink over the immigration rules and the shortage occupation list, the NHS will be unable to fill vacant nursing posts.

Danny Mortimer

Overseas recruitment provides a ‘medium term solution’ to fill nursing vacancies, Danny Mortimer said

HSJ reported last month that 83 per cent of trusts have failed to meet their own planned nurse staffing levels. There has also been a large increase in the number of nurses recruited from overseas by trusts due to a shortage of applicants in England.

Health Education England said demand for nurses increased by 21,000 in 2014 alone, following the Francis report and new safe staffing guidance.

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer told HSJ: “While employers continue to recruit nurses from the EU, they are telling us that visa applications for non-EU nurses are being rejected because of controls on numbers. I have made these concerns known to colleagues at the DH and the Home Office.”

He added: “We know that many NHS organisations are facing recruitment challenges and that overseas recruitment can provide a medium term solution whilst other plans, particularly the training of new nurses come to fruition.

“Employers will have tried all other options before embarking on overseas recruitment, and it is essential that processes to recruit nurses from overseas work effectively and responsively when we need them.”

A trust chief executive in the Midlands said the immigration policy “made no sense” given the NHS was struggling to recruit sufficient numbers.

They said: “We are very concerned with the approach that is being taken. The whole NHS has enormous vacancies and we face losing experienced staff as well. The government needs to reconsider.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said it would not comment on private correspondence and reiterated the immigration rules.

She said: “In the past it has been too easy for some employers to bring in workers from overseas rather than to take the long term decision to train our workforce here at home.

“There are exemptions to this threshold for occupations where the UK has a shortage, but the independent Migration Advisory Committee, which took evidence from a number of NHS trusts and representative bodies from across the UK, recommended against adding nurses to the shortage occupation list.

“We will continue to monitor [non-EU visa] take-up, but have no plans to change the limit.”