Boris Johnson promises preferential immigration process for NHS staff

The PM has proposed half-price visas and quick decisions for doctors and nurses as part of points-based immigration system

This is an edited version of an article first published by The Guardian

Boris Johnson has unveiled plans for half-price visas and preferential immigration processes for doctors and nurses wanting to work in the UK – but faced calls to exempt them from the health surcharge.

Johnson said the new NHS visa, costing £464, would be part of the points-based immigration system he wants to introduce after Brexit. Under the proposed fast-track process, the Conservatives said applicants would be guaranteed a decision within two weeks, and extra points would be awarded to those coming to work in the NHS.

Applicants would also be able to pay back the cost of the immigration health surcharge – charges paid by migrants to the UK to use the NHS – via their salaries.

“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,” home secretary Priti Patel said. “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.”

The announcement received a mixed reaction as Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said she reserved judgment 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 has 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 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,” she continued. “This policy is full of holes, with nothing to say about the nurses earning below their income threshold, as well as all the cooks, cleaners, hospital porters and others who are vital to hospitals – and nothing at all about their right to bring family members here.

“Labour’s immigration policy is rational and fair and will prioritise attracting the people we need, and treat them as human beings.”

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