Britain’s biggest nursing union has warned of “chaos” if the government goes ahead with new immigration rules which will affect thousands of migrants from outside the European Union.
From next year, non-EU immigrants must be earning £35,000 or more to stay in the UK after six years in a move that will affect nearly 4000 NHS nurses currently working in the UK.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned today that the nurses will effectively face the threat of deportation and intensify the severe shortage of nursing staff in the UK.
The RCN has called on the government to reconsider the £35,000 salary limit and add nurses to the list of occupations there is a shortage of in Britain.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “The immigration rules for health care workers will cause chaos for the NHS and other care services.
“At a time when demand is increasing, the UK is perversely making it harder to employ staff from overseas. The NHS has spent millions hiring nurses from overseas in order to provide safe staffing levels. These rules will mean that money has just been thrown down the drain.”
The Home Office says the move is aimed at discouraging migrants coming to work in the UK from staying permanently and said employers have had since 2011 to prepare for the possibility that their non-EU workers may not meet the required salary threshold to settle in the UK.
There are more than 400,000 nurses working in the NHS in England with a vast majority of them on salaries of between £21,000 and £28,000.
Foreign nurses, particularly from Africa and South Asia, have been relied upon to fill long-term staffing gaps due to cuts to nurse-training in the UK.
Dr Carter also said that the government’s move was “morally and ethically wrong”.
Employment Minister Priti Patel told Sky News that the government would look at reaching an agreement with the RCN on the issue.
“I think where there are exemptions required obviously the Government will look at that but it is important for me to emphasise that we will work with the nursing profession to ensure that we have the right number of nurses and nurses being trained as well so that they can enter the nursing profession but be on the front line of the NHS”, she said.
The new rules are part of David Cameron’s pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, one which has fallen well short of expectations in the face of rapidly increasing migration from the European Union.
Many non-EU workers and migrants say they have been unfairly targeted due to Mr Cameron’s inability to curtail the flow of EU migrants, particularly from Eastern Europe.
Several nurses who spoke to the UKAsian said their lives have been thrust into uncertainty. Many have children and families in the UK and face the prospect of leaving voluntarily or mounting long and costly legal battles to remain in the UK.