Search our news, events & opinions

Relaxed immigration rules for migrant doctors and nurses: a boost to the NHS and care sector?

Author headshot image Posted by , Partner

The skills shortage hitting the NHS has triggered a relaxation of some immigration rules for doctors and nurses coming to the UK to work. The changes which will come into effect on 6 July 2018 will also affect migrant doctors and nurses in the private sector. This is welcome news for care providers with nursing care services as there is a significant shortage of nurses in the sector.


The Home Office has announced that doctors and nurses will be excluded from the cap on Tier 2 skilled workers visas under the Points Based System. With the number of skilled workers permitted into the UK via Tier 2 currently capped at 20,700 per year, doctors and nurses have to compete for visas against other skilled workers. The changes will give a boost to the NHS and care organisations struggling with shortage of staff.

Why is this needed?

The cap was introduced in 2010 with the aim of controlling net migration from countries outside of the EU. In recent months, the number of applications has exceeded the monthly visa allocation, which is largely attributable to the NHS which accounts for approximately 40% of all Tier 2 applications. This has caused concerns about shortage of staff in the NHS, but also had a knock on effect on other sectors, including the social care sector.

The cap has been widely criticised by health and social care organisations since its introduction in 2010. They have argued that given the staff shortages, which as of February 2018 were estimated to be 35,000 nurse vacancies and 10,000 doctor posts, doctors and nurses should be exempt from the cap. In addition, since the Brexit vote in 2016 we have seen an estimated 89% drop in the number of European nurses coming to work in the UK. This leaves an already stretched sector crying out for medical professionals to ease the crippling pressures it faces.

Will it fix the problem?

Whilst the Government has earned praise from the sector which has welcomed the regime relaxation as a positive step in addressing the workforce pressures, there are questions over whether the measure has gone far enough.

With so many visa applications under Tier 2 being declined due to the cap, the system is facing an inevitable backlog, which could take several months to clear and for the full effect of lifting the cap to be felt. In addition, industry experts have been quick to point out that lifting the cap only relates to doctors and nurses, meaning that the sector will still face staffing shortages in other areas.

So although the Government has recognised the need to attract more doctors and nurses from outside of the UK and is taking positive action to address this, with the uncertainty of Brexit and the vast amount of vacancies to be filled there is still a very big mountain to climb.


If you have any questions on the Government’s decision to lift the Tier 2 cap on doctors and nurses, or would like advice on any other business immigration law matter, please contact our specialist Health & Social Care team on:

0800 182 2498     Email

Leave a comment

Thank you for choosing to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated and please do not use a spammy keyword or a domain as your name or it will be deleted.





It pays to employ the right employment solicitor

Learn more


T: 01793 847 722 (DDI)

Search our news, events & opinions