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Exclusive: DHSC caught on ‘back foot’ by ‘confused’ visa clampdown

Published on: 24 Jan 2024

Department of Health and Social Care officials described the announcement of a visa clampdown for health and care workers as “confused at best” and said they were pushing the Home Office to clarify its position, internal emails show.

In December the home secretary announced plans to tighten the health and social care visa and increase salary requirements for overseas workers.

At the time, James Cleverly said this would help deliver “the biggest ever reduction in net migration”.

The measures included banning care workers from bringing family members to the UK, as well as raising the salary threshold from £26,200 to nearly £39,000.

When announced, this sparked concerns the measures would hit NHS recruitment, but the government later clarified that the measures only applied to the social care sector.

Correspondence between the DHSC and NHS England released following a freedom of information request by HSJ showed civil servants were caught on the “back foot” by the announcement.

Two days after the announcement, an NHSE official said trusts were being “inundated by concerned [allied health professionals] and other professions (employed and appointed) thinking that the changes affect them”.

They added: “The way it was reported in the media it appears that changes in salary thresholds and dependants affect NHS staff – I was even approached by a number of friends and family yesterday.

“I’m concerned that the perception that these changes affect NHS staff could affect current and future international recruitment.”

In another email, a senior DHSC official admitted that the “messaging for the NHS – that it is untouched by these measures – has been confused at best.”

Another message, sent to NHSE deputy chief nurse Duncan Burton and director of workforce supply Craig De Souza, adds: “We are pushing [Home Office] to try and make their position on [the] NHS much clearer and will continue to do so… we know this has not been managed well in terms of clarity for health and care.”

NHSE was approached for comment.

A government spokesperson said they had been working with NHS Employers and NHSE to ensure information on any changes to healthcare visas was clear and up-to-date.

They said: “The government’s changes to legal migration rules will ensure we can continue to bring in the workers we need, whilst curbing abuse of the immigration system and protecting people from labour exploitation.

“More than 15,000 domestically-trained nurses and midwives registered in the UK in the six months to September 2023 – the highest number we’ve seen for this period - and we continue to bring in talented and dedicated nurses from across the world to support NHS patients.

“Those coming on the Health and Care visa route will be exempted from the increase to the salary threshold for Skilled Worker visas.”