The NHS exemption for Tier 2 visas, introduced in June this year, has removed the limit on the number of nurses and doctors coming from areas other than the European Economic Area (EEA), to work in the UK. The NHS exemption has been described as a major step forward for many sectors, not just the medical profession, as other sectors will benefit from the removal of NHS jobs from immigration targets. Others argue that the exemption should be extended to other areas in order to make a difference to the shortage of skilled workers which continue in other professions.
Kerry Garcia, partner at law firm Stephens & Bolton, welcomed the NHS exemption. Garcia believes that the removal of doctors and nurses from the annual cap will make certificates of sponsorship available to employees working in other sectors in the UK. Garcia cautions however, that though the NHS exemption clause will take some of the pressure off employers currently attempting to fill skilled roles, the bureaucracy involved in the Tier 2 visa system may act as a deterrent for some. She reveals that relatively few employers have had success looking outside the EEA when filling vacancies.
Currently, Tier 2 visas are available to skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who have been accepted in positions earning an annual salary upwards of approximately £30,000 per annum. Tier 2 visas are restricted to 20,700 per year and since December 2017, the cap has been exceeded, creating pressure for employers attempting to fill skilled roles. According to the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CASE) – an organisation representing businesses, charities and universities in the scientific field, a total of 6,080 Tier 2 visas requiring sponsorship were denied due to the cap between December of last year and March of this year. In March alone, 59% of eligible applications were refused. Approximately 20% of Tier 2 visa applications were for positions in technology and IT, 29% were for professional positions such as financial advisers and accountants and 6% were for engineers. Other eligible applicants for roles within healthcare or education, such as pharmacists and teachers, were also denied visas.
The executive director at CASE, Dr Sarah Main, believes that ensuring the migration system remains effective after Brexit requires the government to learn from past mistakes. The government, in response to the shortage of skilled labour, has requested the Migration Advisory Committee to review the shortage occupation list which was established to better reflect labour shortages.
Dr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Royal Society of Biology (RSB), would like the exemption to go further. Downs believes that by exempting PhD and other occupations currently experiencing a shortage of applicants, the UK would not only fill vacant professional roles, but send a message about welcoming valued technical and research workers. Dr Main stated that a fixed list cannot capture the country’s economic needs in relation to science and innovation.
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