The British Medical Association and Royal College of nursing both believe that the NHS should be exempted from the new new UK Visa Tier 2 immigration skills levy applicable to non-EU overseas doctors and nurses.
These two influential healthcare groups have written to the UK Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, urging her to exempt workers in order to protect NHS budgets.
The compulsory fee would force the NHS to fork out £1,000 per worker annually when hiring staff to come to the UK from nations outside of the European Union, at a time when the healthcare system is already challenged financially.
In recent weeks, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has emphasised the Conservative government’s commitment to developing “homegrown” skills, but the NHS is still hugely reliant on EU labour in particular.
And there is strong evidence that many key aspects of the healthcare system are experiencing a gulf between demand and staffing numbers.
For example, nurses remain on at the official shortage occupation list of the UK, prompting the British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing to write to Amber Rudd expressing their deep concerns about the impact of the visa skills charge on the healthcare system.
Their immediate concern is that the current staffing crisis plaguing the UK healthcare system could worsen after introduction of the Immigration Skills Charge.
It is noted in the letter that the government has already promised to invest money raised from the levy into the NHS system.
Yet both the British Medical Association and Royal College of Nursing are concerned that there have been no explicit guarantees that this will ultimately be the case.
And the £1,000 fee being payable upfront means that any recruitment drive could prove to be substantially expensive.
The BMA notes that if a hospital wanted to employ a doctor on a Tier 2 visa for five years, the hospital trust would need to pay £5,000 upfront when applying to UK Visas and Immigration for a certificate of sponsorship.
Around 150,000 workers from the European Union currently work within the NHS system.
Although the Conservative party has committed itself to creating more opportunities for British healthcare graduates and workers, the fact remains that in the short-term there is likely to be a dearth of talent caused by the ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Meanwhile, unions have accused the government of wrongly penalising employers for hiring people on Tier 2 visas, describing the Home Office’s treatment of non-EU workers ‘grossly unfair.’