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Proposed employer levy for overseas recruits sparks concern

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Concerns have been raised that a government-proposed levy for employers who recruit workers from outside the European Union would penalise health organisations trying to fill nurse staffing shortfalls.

The Royal College of Nursing said the so-called “skills levy” – which has been put forward by the government as part of a raft of measures to reduce net migration to the UK – would take away money from the “already cash-strapped NHS”.

“This levy, if applied to NHS trusts and other health and care providers, would penalise employers for seeking to recruit international nurses”

RCN briefing paper

The levy is also intended to provide a pool of funding for UK apprenticeships and help generate a home-grown workforce.

But the RCN said it was unclear how the creation of additional apprenticeships would ensure more nurses were trained due to the profession’s distinct career pathway.

The issue was raised last week by college’s head of policy Howard Catton at a home affairs select committee session on immigration and skills shortages.

“In terms of a levy, we are concerned that this will be taking money out of an already cash-strapped NHS and we are not quite sure of the mechanics of how apprenticeships would work when it is registered nurses that we need,” he told MPs.

The levy is included in the government’s immigration bill, which, if passed, would enable the charge to be collected from employers who sponsor “skilled” workers via the tier 2 visa system from outside the European Economic Area – comprising the EU, plus other countries such as Norway.

If passed, the bill would also allow the government to make regulations setting the scope and rate of the levy.

The government’s Migration Advisory Committee was recently asked by ministers to advise on the introduction of the charge and is due to report its findings by December.

“We are not quite sure of the mechanics of how apprenticeships would work when it is registered nurses that we need”

Howard Catton

In a briefing paper prepared ahead of the second reading of the bill earlier this month, the RCN called for clarification about whether it would apply to publicly funded organisations.

“The NHS is increasingly reliant on international recruitment of qualified nurses to make up for the shortage of UK-trained registered nurses in the UK – a direct result of insufficient numbers of UK nurse education places in higher education,” it said.

“This levy, if applied to NHS trusts and other health and care providers, would penalise employers for seeking to recruit international nurses in order to fill this dangerous shortfall,” said the RCN briefing.

Meanwhile, in a submission to the government’s Immigration Bill Committee made by the British Medical Association last week, doctors’ leaders called for the NHS to be exempt from the proposed charge.

It referred to nurse and doctor workforce pressures in primary and secondary care, and the fact the government had acknowledged the shortfall in domestic nurses by recently adding the profession to the shortage occupation list.

“It is essential that the NHS can recruit the staff that it needs both from the UK and overseas where the resident workforce is unable to fulfil this,” said the BMA.

“Employers already have to pay a charge for each migrant they sponsor from overseas through the charge for a certificate of sponsorship. However, the imposition of an immigration skills charge, will add a further financial burden on employers who need to recruit from overseas to ensure patient safety,” it said.

The BMA added it was “disappointed” to see the inclusion of the charge within the bill before the Migration Advisory Committee had reported its findings.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Great. About time. Any measure that improves the chances of UK nationals being able to work in the NHS has to be a good thing. At present, NHS management has no incentive to run return to practice courses - or entice UK nurses back into the NHS through offering flexible working hours - while recruitment from abroad remains an option.

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