Thousands of applications from overseas doctors looking to work in the UK have been refused, according to recently released official figures.
Of 3,597 requests by doctors for Tier 2 visas received by the Home Office between 6 November 2017 and 5 April 2018, only 34% were accepted. This means more than 2,300 doctors were denied the chance to work in the UK, in spite of continuing staff shortages in the NHS.
These figures, uncovered by a freedom of information request, show that doctors tended to be less successful than other types of Tier 2 visa applicants, with the average success rate across all applications being 45%.
The figures also show that junior doctors struggle the most, with only 31% of registrars being granted a visa, compared to 90 out of 97 consultants succeeding with their applications.
A spokesperson for the British Medical Association (BMA) said: “These figures demonstrate that the tier 2 visa cap is resulting in thousands of highly trained, experienced doctors being blocked from taking up empty posts in the health service that the NHS is unable to fill.
“This is a situation that we can ill afford at a time when the NHS is under unsustainable pressure from rising demand, stagnating budgets and widespread staff shortages.”
The chief executive of NHS Employers, Danny Mortimer, criticised the current Tier 2 visa system for doctors, saying: “a speedy, effective solution is urgently needed to clear the backlog”.
Under current rules, only 20,700 Tier 2 visas are granted each year, working out to an average of 1,725 a month. This cap was first introduced in 2011 when Theresa May was Home Secretary and, while Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has lobbied for the limit to be lifted, the Prime Minister has reportedly blocked requests for more overseas doctors to be granted visas.
However, the new Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, recently claimed to be “taking a fresh look” at the policy, leading to hopes that the Tier 2 visa cap could soon be increased or abolished entirely.
This would be particularly good news for the NHS, which is experiencing on going staff shortages in the face of record demand from patients.
New figures from the thinktank Global Future suggest that hospitals in the UK need up to 3,500 additional doctors a year to help address staffing shortages, with one in 11 health service posts being currently unfilled. Figures from earlier in the year also showed over 34,000 nursing vacancies across the NHS with only one in every 400 advertised roles being filled.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, said:
“We keep the tier 2 cap under close review. Priority is given to doctors working in shortage specialisms, as determined by the migration advisory committee, and no one has ever been refused for any of those posts.”
However, with serious staff shortages across the NHS and such a high percentage of overseas doctors being denied visas, an overhaul of the Tier 2 visa limits seems likely to be the only immediately viable solution.
For help with a visa application or any other UK immigration issues, please get in touch with Vanessa Ganguin.