Home secretary Sajid Javid has extended a minimum salary exemption for overseas nurses wanting to work in the UK, following warnings from nursing union leaders.
It means international nurses will only be required to meet the lower rate of £20,800 a year instead of the standard £30,000 in order to be granted a Tier 2 (General) visa.
“The Home Office have listened to our concerns and extended the minimum salary exemption”
The exemption was brought in November 2016 amid concerns about staff shortages and was due to end in July 2019.
However, Mr Javid has announced today that the exemption will continue until a review in January 2021.
It comes as latest figures from NHS Improvement, also published today, revealed that there were 39,148 nursing vacancies in England in the third quarter of 2018-19 – a drop from 42,370 in the previous quarter.
Currently, the £30,000 salary threshold only applies to skilled workers outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) but it was announced last year that it may be extended to those in the EEA after Brexit.
At the time, the proposal sparked concern from some including Dame Donna Kinnair, acting chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.
Giving evidence to a committee last month set up to scrutinise the bill that will end freedom of movement after Brexit, Dame Donna warned that the salary minimum would “damage our profession”.
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She said £30,000 was an “arbitrary figure” and that most skilled nurses who came to the UK from overseas were not earning that. The starting salary for nurses currently sits at around £23,000.
The salary exemption also applies to paramedics, medical radiographers and secondary school teachers whose subjects are in maths, physics, chemistry, computer science and Mandarin.
It follows a decision by the home secretary in June last year to remove doctors and nurses from the cap on skilled worker visas.
Mr Javid said: “I am committed to an immigration system which attracts skilled workers and ensures employers have access to the skills they need, whilst bringing net migration down to sustainable levels.
“That is why I removed doctors and nurses from the Tier 2 cap last year to ensure the NHS had access to the workers it needs, and it’s why I am now maintaining the minimum salary exemption for the NHS and schools so they can continue to hire experienced nurses, paramedics and teachers from abroad,” he added.
The move to extend the exemption was welcomed by Dame Donna, who said it was “vital” to keep the UK open and welcome to international recruits because not enough nurses were being trained domestically.
Dame Donna Kinnair
She said: “The Home Office have listened to our concerns and extended the minimum salary exemption for internationally recruited nurses until January 2021.
“Without this action, ministers risked shutting the door on international nurses who are vital for keeping our health and care services running at a time when staffing shortages are already extensive,” Dame Donna said.
The exemption extension comes on the same day that immigration minster Caroline Nokes announced further details about a new “nursing exchange scheme” with Jamaica that was announced in April last year.
The project, which is initially planned to last for two years, will enable 20 nurses from the Caribbean island to come to the UK to work at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust for five months, after completing seven months initial training in Jamaica.
The nurses will come to the UK on a Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange) visa. They will be paid a salary and given accommodation while working in here.
The aim is to allow a two-way learning experience between nurses from different backgrounds.
The details of the scheme, which was initially announced in April 2018 by the Department of Health and Social Care, have been determined following extensive work with the Jamaican Government.
Ms Nokes said: “The Jamaican nurse exchange scheme is a fantastic opportunity for future collaboration between the UK and Jamaica.
“This scheme will bring skilled Jamaican nurses to the UK to learn from the NHS, and give UK NHS staff the opportunity to learn from them.”
Health minister Stephen Hammond said the development marked an “exciting step forward” for the UK’s partnership with Jamaica.