Doctors' exemption from visa cap could face 'abrupt reversal'

The government's decision to lift the tier 2 visa cap for overseas doctors hoping to work in the UK could be reversed, a campaigning doctors' group has warned.

Visa cap (Photo:
Visa cap (Photo:

The Home Office confirmed in June that there would no longer be a restriction on numbers of doctors and nurses who can be employed through the tier 2 visa route.

However, correspondence published late last week between the home secretary Sajid Javid and the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) showed that the ‘temporary’ decision is currently being reviewed.

Campaign group The Doctors' Association UK (DAUK) is now urging Mr Javid to outline his reasons for reviewing the decision, highlighting the ‘destructive effect’ on the NHS that reinstatement of the cap could have.

Tier 2 visa cap

In a letter to MAC chair Professor Alan Manning, sent in June, Mr Javid asked the committee to ‘examine the full composition of the shortage occupation list (SOL)... to determine which high skilled roles it would be sensible to fill through non-EEA migration under Tier 2 of the points based system’.

He added: ‘In view of the risks associated with doctors not being able to fill necessary posts within the NHS and in view of the current pressures, I have exceptionally agreed – on a temporary basis – to exempt all doctors and all nurses from the Tier 2 cap, but a review of the full SOL will enable the committee to assess which occupations should be given priority within the cap. I intend to keep this change under review.’

Under the annual cap, only 20,700 tier 2 visas are granted to individuals wishing to work in the UK. However, officials have previously admitted that numbers of applications for tier 2 visas regularly exceed available places, and it is estimated that around two in five tier 2 visa places are accounted for by applicants who intend to work in the health service.


DAUK has voiced concern over the potential for an ‘abrupt reversal’ of the tier 2 cap exemption, arguing that such a move could ‘clearly take the health service backwards’.

In a letter to Mr Javid sent late last week, DAUK editor Dr Neil Tiwari said: ‘With almost 10,000 empty slots on medical rotas in both primary and secondary care, we felt it imperative to convey the strength of concern within the profession regarding the destructive effect of such visa caps on our work and the extent to which we are reliant on our non-EU colleagues…

‘We now write to establish the rationale behind a retrospective qualification to the exemption that could clearly take the health service backwards, and to strongly urge that the progress that has been achieved is not in vain. For the safety of our patients and the welfare of our non EU colleagues and their families, we ask you to strongly consider not reversing the exemption of doctors and nurses from tier 2 visa caps.’

The DAUK has previously presented the government with a petition signed by thousands of GMC-registered doctors calling for a change in tier 2 visa policy as part of their ‘scrap the cap’ campaign, launched in May.

Although Professor Manning accepted the home secretary’s commission months ago, both letters have only recently been made public. The overhaul of visa rules form part of the government’s long-term plan for the NHS.

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