Government promises fast-track health visas

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has outlined plans for fast-track visas for health professionals as part of the points-based immigration system the government plans to introduce after Brexit.

With the National Health Service currently facing staff shortages totalling about 100,000, Mr Johnson said overseas doctors and nurses could receive visa approval within two weeks under the new scheme and announced the cost of a visa for health professionals would be halved from £928 to £464.The plan, which the Conservatives hope will be a vote winner in December's general election, is part of the Australian-style points system that the government wants to introduce across all sectors of the economy when Brexit ends free movement for EU27 nationals.As yet, however, no other details of how the system would work in the UK have been produced by ministers, much to the frustration of business leaders facing skills shortages.Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "These measures are part of our plan for an Australian-style, points-based immigration system that allows us to control numbers while remaining open to vital professions like nurses."That means the best of both worlds - attracting talent from around the world so our NHS continues to provide brilliant service while ensuring that it isn't put under strain by opening Britain's borders to the entire world."At present, about 13 per cent of the NHS's 1.2 million workforce comes from outside the UK, some six per cent from EU27 nations. Among doctors, about 28 per cent originate from outside the UK, some two-thirds of them from non-EU nations.
The BBC pointed out: "As the system for non-EU citizens currently stands, some health professionals already get preferential treatment. For example, nurses don't have to meet the £30,000 salary threshold. And there's no cap on how many visas can be given out to doctors or nurses as there is for most other skilled professionals. "The key changes in this announcement are the halving of the visa fee and allowing people to pay back the £400 a year compulsory health insurance more slowly. "It doesn't remove the £1,000 immigration skills charge employers have to pay for every foreign worker they hire. And these plans won't help social care staff who very often earn less than £30,000 - in an industry which also has a vacancy rate of eight per cent."Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said she was reserving judgment on the government's until she had more details. She also criticised the imposition of the immigration health charge for medical staff.“Failure to train enough nurses is leaving NHS and social care short-staffed and forced us to recruit overseas in the short-term,” she said. “A fairer immigration system is a key demand we’re making of politicians this election – valuing skills and not fixating on arbitrary targets – but the devil will be in the detail and we cannot be satisfied by rhetoric alone. The NHS doesn’t operate in isolation and nurses work in social care and many other places.“But it is of deep regret that the prime minister is preserving the immoral and heartless charge for overseas nurses to use the same services they keep running. It should be abolished, not spread out every month. There are tens of thousands of unfilled nursing jobs and we need more ambitious plans than this to address it.”Diane Abbott, the Labour Party's 'shadow' home secretary, said: "The Tories are tying themselves in knots over immigration. They use dog-whistle anti-migrant rhetoric but are forced to accept we need migrant workers for key sectors, not just the NHS, but many more besides."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted

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