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Home Office scraps cap on doctors’ visas

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2648 (Published 14 June 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2648
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

The Home Office has announced that it will remove restrictions on the number of tier 2 visas available to doctors and nurses.

The move comes after The BMJ launched its Scrap the Cap campaign (bmj.com/scrap-the-cap) last month, which called for a review of immigration policies so that doctors from overseas who have been offered jobs in the NHS can take up their posts.

The current cap of 20 700 a year on tier 2 skilled worker visas has meant that thousands of visa applications for doctors who had been offered jobs in the NHS have been refused. The NHS has around 10 000 vacancies for doctors, NHS Improvement said in December 2017.1

The Home Office said that the visa changes would be outlined in parliament tomorrow and were part of a long term government plan for the NHS.

Sajid Javid, home secretary, said, “I recognise the pressures faced by the NHS and other sectors in recent months. Doctors and nurses play a vital role in society, and at this time we need more in the UK. That is why I have reviewed our skilled worker visa route.

“This is about finding a solution to increased demand and to support our essential national services.”

Responding to the announcement, Rebecca Coombes, The BMJ’s head of news and views, said, “It is fantastic news that the government has listened to our calls and scrapped the cap on tier 2 visas for doctors. It is vital that the NHS is able to employ doctors from overseas, and we hope that this change means that it is no longer prevented from doing so by arbitrary immigration rules.”

Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA, said it was a relief that “common sense has finally prevailed.”

He said, “These regulations have prevented thousands of non-EU doctors being allowed to work in the UK to fill empty posts that the health service is unable to fill. The NHS has always relied on these highly skilled, experienced overseas doctors to provide frontline care to patients, and they are needed more than ever at a time when the NHS is under mounting pressure from rising demand, stagnating funding, and staff shortages.

“We await the full details in the Immigration Rules, which will be laid before parliament tomorrow.”

Although the visa cap will no longer apply to doctors, employers looking to recruit doctors in specialties that are not on the shortage occupation list will be required to undertake the resident labour market test, as is the case currently. This means having to advertise jobs in the UK before searching overseas.

Doctors already recognised as being in shortage will continue to be exempt from the resident labour market test.

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