• Chartered Society for Physiotherapists warns immigration salary rules could force staff to leave UK
  • CSP believes there is a shortage of 500 physiotherapists a year in the UK
  • Overseas staff have five years to reach £35,000 basic salary on Agenda for Change

Physiotherapists from overseas working in the NHS could be forced to leave the UK under tougher immigration rules, HSJ has been told.

The Chartered Society for Physiotherapists said it estimates the current shortage of physios in the NHS to be 500 a year and overseas staff could be forced to leave because they earn below the minimum £35,000 a year salary demanded by the government.

Nurses were added to the immigration shortage occupation list as an emergency measure in 2015 and are exempt from the £35,000 minimum. However, the CSP has warned the salary thresholds, which were raised in April 2016, are making it harder for physios to stay in the UK or get work and visas.

Under the Home Office’s rules, the maximum length of a work visa is five years but an overseas physiotherapist starting at the bottom of band five of the Agenda for Change pay scale would struggle to meet the salary threshold before their time on the visa was up.

The CSP has written to the Home Office, asking it to change the policy and a petition on the Parliament petition website received more than 13,000 signatures. It called for the Home Office to lower the threshold to £28,000.

The CSP said the total number of staff affected was unknown and the Home Office had not been able to provide figures for the number of work visas issued to physiotherapists.

A spokeswoman said: “Some members who have contacted us are considering relocating to areas such as London, which attract extra allowances, to try to boost their salary levels.

“The CSP supports lowering the minimum salary threshold for health workers to the national average income which, according to the Office for National Statistics, was £26,500 last year.

“Although some physiotherapists who contacted the CSP are taking locum or private work in an attempt to break through the threshold, the Home Office advises that the £35,000 threshold applies to basic pay and overtime can’t be included.”

Sharon Jameison, acute physiotherapy team leader at Great Western Hospitals Foundation Trust, said there was an “excellent” band six physio at the trust who may be forced to quit. Anurag Bhatnagar, from India, has worked at the trust for four years after completing his masters at Sheffield Hallam University.

Ms Jameison said: “Physios like Mr Bhatnagar have invested time and effort in the NHS but the visa time limit means that they will never have enough time to get up to the level to meet the £35,000 threshold. I have been short of two band six physios for the last year – there is a massive shortage.”

In a response to the petition, which was shut down because of the general election, the Home Office said: “The government recognises that skilled migration has brought economic benefit to the UK. It has boosted our ability to compete in global markets and helped to make us world leaders in many sectors. The UK remains open to the brightest and best that our companies need to grow, but we also need to take steps to reduce net migration to sustainable levels.

“It is now more important than ever that we have the right skills domestically to build a strong and competitive economy and it is right that employers look first to the resident UK workforce before recruiting from overseas.

“Workers who cannot meet the threshold can extend their stay in tier two up to a maximum of six years, and can apply to switch into any other immigration routes for which they are eligible.”