• Chief executive of NHS Employers says tone of government’s comments unwelcome
  • Government has suggested EU citizens who have not applied to immigration scheme by 31 December 2020 could face enforcement action
  • But has since offered a “simpler process” for doctors and nurses wishing to work in UK

Ministers have been warned their “aggressive approach” towards EU workers who don’t apply for new immigration status by next year is wrong and could affect the health and social care workforce.

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Danny Mortimer said he was “very concerned” about the tone of government’s messaging

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers and co-convenor of the Cavendish Coalition – a group of health and social care organisations – warned the tone of the government’s comments on immigration was unwelcome.

The government has suggested EU citizens who have not applied to an immigration scheme by 31 December 2020 could face enforcement action, including detention and deportation.

Mr Mortimer demanded clarification over new guidance published last week which established what would happen in a no-deal scenario.

He said: “It’s helpful to see the policy confirmed that will be in place if we leave without a deal. However, further clarification is needed over the rights and entitlements of individuals coming from the EU to the UK applying for voluntary Exceptional Leave To Remain.

“We are very concerned about the tone of the messaging about what will happen if someone is not registered with a scheme by December 2020, with threats of ‘enforcement action, detention and removal as an immigration offender’.

“The welcome words about valuing our current EU colleagues working or living in the UK need to be followed up with positive action that enables the attraction of the workforce desperately needed across social care and health, not the aggressive approach that has caused so much distress in the past.”

Miriam Deakin, NHS Providers’ director of policy and strategy, welcomed the guidance, believing it is “extremely important” for the health sector, but also raised concerns over its lack of detail on the rights of EU citizens securing Euro TLR.

She said: “Without this clarity, people considering applying to work in the NHS may be put off, especially if they face being treated as an immigration offender.”

Because the guidance is short-term, she warned EU healthcare professionals may wait until details on the proposed immigration system come out – which could increase pressure on already-stretched staffing levels.

She added: “Any future immigration system must be underpinned by an understanding that high skilled does not equal high paid and that salary thresholds must be realistic about the starting pay for a number of vital health and care roles.”

Although the government published the guidance late last week, it has this week promised a “simpler process” for doctors and nurses coming to work in the UK.

Skilled clinicians who have secured sponsorship will now only need to sit one English language test compared with two under the previous system.

Immigration minister Seema Kennedy said: “My message is clear. If you are a talented nurse or doctor, if you are a gifted midwife or dentist, then I want you to choose to work here and be part of our country.”

EU citizens and their family members who move to the UK after a no-deal Brexit will need to have applied for a UK immigration status by 31 December 2020, according to last week’s Home Office guidance. This can be European Temporary Leave to Remain, the new points-based immigration system set to come in from January 2021 or the EU Settlement Scheme.

Failure to do so will mean they are in the UK “unlawfully” and could face “enforcement action, detention and removal as an immigration offender”, according to the new policy.

It said: “After Brexit, EU citizens who move to the UK will be able to apply for a 36-month temporary immigration status – European Temporary Leave to Remain.

“Applications to the new Euro TLR scheme will be simple and free and will be made after arrival in the UK. There will be no need for EU citizens travelling to the UK after Brexit to make any special arrangements in advance.

“EU citizens who move to the UK after Brexit and who do not apply for Euro TLR will need to leave the UK by 31 December 2020, unless they have applied for and obtained a UK immigration status under the UK’s new points-based immigration system.”

It added that Euro TLR holders will have a “bridge” to the new immigration system and only need to apply when their status expires. Those who do not meet the new criteria will have to leave once it expires.

A Home Office spokeswoman said Euro TLR will make sure EEA and Swiss citizens can live and work in the UK after the end of 2020.

She added: “EU citizens living in the UK before Brexit have until at least 31 December 2020 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. Those who are eligible, and have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, will be given a further opportunity to apply.

“After we leave the EU, we will introduce a new points-based immigration system built around the skills and talent people have – not where they are from.”

The independent Migration Advisory Committee has also been commissioned to review how an Australian-style points-based system could be introduced in the UK, with a report expected to be published by January 2020.

MPs have voted in favour of stopping the UK from leaving the EU without a deal, and this legislation was granted royal assent yesterday. However, also yesterday, prime minister Boris Johnson was insistent he would not ask for another Brexit delay

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a comment from NHS Providers

NMC streamlines approach for overseas registration

The Nursing and Midwifery Council has also announced new measures intended to streamline the process for nurses, midwives and nursing associations applying to join the register from overseas.

The improvements, which come into effect in October 2019, will include:

  • Moving from a paper to an online application system that allows registrants to track progress;
  • Streamlining requirements to confirm a candidate’s competency;
  • A cost reduction of the computer-based test overseas nurses must take to work in the UK; and
  • New guidance on the NMC website.

The NMC said unnecessary delays can mean applicants are not able to practice in their chosen profession and it can risk them having to return home.

Emma Broadbent, director of registration and revalidation at the NMC, said: “We want to make sure that those who meet our requirements are able to join our register as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

She added: “We are hopeful that by simplifying the application process, and further reducing the computer based test cost, we will continue to make the UK an attractive option for those coming from abroad.”