Campaigners have welcomed reports that the UK government plans to remove doctors and nurses from an immigration cap – which could also make it easier for businesses to recruit IT workers from outside the EU.
Home secretary Sajid Javid is expected to reveal the policy shift tomorrow, various outlets have reported, as the government bows to pressure over the number of non-EU doctors and nurses that have been turned away at a time when the NHS is facing staff shortages.
At the moment, healthcare professionals – along with other skilled workers including IT specialists, engineers and teachers – enter the UK via the Tier 2 (General) visa route, which caps entry at 20,700 each year.
However, in recent months this cap has been hit repeatedly, meaning people that businesses would like to hire are not allowed into the UK because of what campaigners describe as an arbitrary cap.
Figures obtained by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) showed that, between December 2017 and March 2018, some 1,226 applications for IT and technology roles were rejected.
A breakdown shows that, of these, almost half – 529 – were programmers and software development professionals, while 270 were offered jobs as IT business analysts, architects and systems designers.
Most of the refusals, though, were in the medical professions – almost 2,000 were denied entry over those four months. This is politically damaging given that there is already a public outcry over NHS funding and staff shortages, and the Prime Minister is facing increasing pressure from health secretary Jeremy Hunt to take action.
Javid indicated that this policy was under review on The Andrew Marr Show earlier this month, when he replied to a question about visa caps for doctors by saying he was taking a "fresh look" at the policy.
The knock-on effect of removing doctors and nurses from the cap is likely to relieve pressure on other professions covered by the Tier 2 (General) route.
The Register understands that NHS roles take up an increasing proportion of the monthly cap, reaching about half the total recently – and so removing them while keeping the annual cap at 20,7000, could free up between 6,000 and 8,000 spaces in the yearly limit.
CaSE director Sarah Main welcomed the expected change, describing it as a "positive and pragmatic approach" to the issue.
"It will relieve the immediate crisis that has caused thousands of engineers, tech and IT specialists, as well as doctors, to be turned away from the UK in recent months," she said.
However, deputy director Naomi Weir added that results might not be immediate, because a knock-on effect of the cap being hit so many months in a row has been that workers reapply the next month, also increasing pressure on the system.
"The likelihood is it'll take a couple of months to clear the backlog that’s been bouncing up over the past six months, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” she told The Register.
The group is also pushing for the cap to be scrapped entirely, which would ensure that all UK businesses could hire the skilled workers they wanted to more easily, which she said would be especially important after Brexit.
"For the UK to be a research and innovation leader, as the Prime Minister wants, we need a streamlined, proportionate migration system along with a global charm offensive to attract the most talented people to the UK,” Main said.
The Home Office declined to comment. ®