Nursing leaders have welcomed the fact European Union nurses across the UK will be able apply for “settled status” to remain in the country, as part of the planned roll out of a pilot scheme prioritising health and social care staff.
However, there are fears the scheme may have come “too late” to provide reassurance for many who have already decided to leave or not to both coming to the UK in the first place.
“Amidst all the uncertainties and nervousness around Brexit, it is vital we show EU nurses that they are valued”
The planned roll out of the trial scheme to all health and social care staff this week follows a smaller pilot covering a number of NHS trusts in the North West.
It will allow EU citizens working in health and social care jobs, such as nursing, to apply for “settled status” in order to continue living and working in the UK post-Brexit.
Settled status is a new immigration route for EU nationals and family members to apply to stay in the UK after 31 December 2020 – the end of the Brexit transition period.
As previously reported, some NHS trusts in London have already pledged to cover the cost for nurses applying to the EU Settlement Scheme in a bid to encourage them to stay on.
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The scheme is due to open to all EU citizens and their family members by March 2019, but until then is being rolled out in stages.
Employees at 15 trusts and universities in the North West were among the first eligible to apply from the start of November.
As of yesterday – 29 November – the scheme was set to be opened up to those working in health or social care across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Applications must be received before 22 December – just before Christmas this year – otherwise EU nurses will need to wait until the scheme opens publicly to apply.
Nurses’ family members will not be able to apply at this pilot stage, unless they are also working in health or social care.
Meanwhile, Home Office guidance on the pilot shows nurses will only be able to apply if they can download an app to allow basic checks to be carried out and have a valid biometric passport or residence card.
The EU Exit: ID Document Check app requires applicants to provide information like their name, address and national insurance number, as well as details of any criminal convictions.
It costs £65 to apply but the process is free for those who already have a valid permanent residence document or indefinite leave to remain.
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The Royal College of Nursing said it was pleased nurses and other health and care staff were being prioritised in the roll out of the settlement scheme.
But the college said it was concerned this had come “too late”, given the numbers of EU nurses who had already decided to leave and a dramatic drop in numbers wishing to join the UK register.
“Since the Brexit vote in 2016 there have been almost 9,000 fewer new registrations from EU nurses and midwives to the Nursing and Midwifery Council register,” said the RCN.
“Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 established EU nurses and midwives have left the UK health and social care system,” it added.
Nevertheless, it said it was committed to supporting EU members through the process, with advice and information on their rights and eligibility for the EU Settlement Scheme on the RCN website.
“The roll out of this pilot scheme provides much needed reassurance to EU healthcare staff”
RCN members can also contact the RCN Immigration Service if they are concerned about their situation and if they think it may be difficult to obtain necessary documents such as proof of work.
Valerie Bailey, head of membership support services at the RCN, said the roll out of the pilot “provides much needed reassurance to EU healthcare staff”.
“Amidst all the uncertainties and nervousness around Brexit, it is vital we show EU nurses that they are valued and that the government recognises their significant contributions to our health and social care services,” she said.
“Prioritising their involvement in the EU Settlement Scheme cannot be underestimated as a mechanism to stem the flow of EU nurses from the UK,” said Ms Bailey.