The home secretary has moved to immediately relax controversial immigration controls on nurses working in the UK, HSJ can reveal.

  • Nursing to be added to the shortage occupation list
  • Announcement follows lobbying of Home Office by NHS Employers
  • Change comes amid trusts’ concerns over visa rejections

Theresa May will today write to the Migration Advisory Committee asking it to place nursing on the shortage occupation list and to carry out a review over whether this should continue in the long term.

This will mean nurses from non-EU countries will no longer run the risk of having their visas rejected, while non-EU nurses earning less than £35,000 a year who have been in the UK for six years will not have to leave the country from April 2016.

Theresa May

Theresa May will ask for nursing to be put on the shortage occupation list

The change follows increasing concern from NHS providers and national officials that non-EU nurse visas have been refused because of immigration restrictions.

Without the change announced today non-EU nurses would continue to join the general pool of non-EU visa applicants hoping to receive one of the 20,700 visas available each year.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Safe staffing across all our hospitals and care homes is a crucial priority. The temporary changes announced today will ensure the NHS has the nurses it needs to deliver the highest standards of care without having to rely on rip-off staffing agencies that cost the taxpayer billions of pounds a year.”

NHS Employers has lobbied the Home Office and Department of Health over the immigration rules. In a letter to Ms May last month, NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said immigration controls were “hindering our ability to provide the right number of staff on our wards to deliver high quality care to our patients”.

HSJ understands that approximately 750 visa applications a month have been refused for non-EU nurses during recent months as NHS trusts try to bolster their staffing levels with overseas recruitment.

The NHS is struggling with a national shortage of nurses following increased demand prompted by the 2013 Francis inquiry. Demand for qualified nurses increased by 21,000 in just 12 months last year.

HSJ has previously reported concerns that some NHS nurses have resigned from their jobs to work in the private sector to avoid the £35,000 cutoff that would force them to leave the country.

Earlier this month, Central Manchester Hospitals Foundation Trust, which had planned to recruit 275 nurses from India, said it ran into delays caused by “pre-employment and migration processes”.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens criticised the rules in a speech last week. He said the rules needed a “rethink” and the UK needed to “better join the dots” between immigration policy and the NHS.

Responding to the news today Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers said: “We are delighted with this positive announcement that nurses are to be included on the shortage occupation list as an interim measure.

“We know employers across England will welcome this support from the government for their efforts to deliver safe services this winter, and to also reduce their reliance on more expensive agency staff.

“We will continue our focused work with the NHS and our colleagues in wider health and social care provision to ensure that MAC receive robust evidence to enable nursing to remain on the list of shortage occupations.”