The UK Government has announced temporary changes to restrictions on nurse recruitment from outside European Economic Area to ensure safe staffing levels across the NHS.

Nurses will be added to the government’s shortage occupation list on an interim basis. This means that nurses from outside the EEA that apply to work in the UK will have their applications for nursing posts prioritised. The independent Migration Advisory Committee will review the change and present further evidence to the government by February 2016.

The move is designed to ease pressure on the NHS at a time when the government is introducing tough new controls on costly agency spending. It will help the NHS improve continuity of care for patients, invest in the frontline and maintain safe staffing levels.

According to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt:

  • Safe staffing across all our hospitals and care homes is a crucial priority. The temporary changes announced today will ensure the NHS has the nurses it needs to deliver the highest standards of care without having to rely on rip-off staffing agencies that cost the taxpayer billions of pounds a year.
  • We are also recruiting more home-grown nurses than ever to deliver a truly seven day NHS. There are already more than 8,000 additional nurses on our wards since 2010 and we are investing in our future workforce with a record 50,000 nurses currently in training.
  • The government is recruiting more home-grown nurses by significantly increasing training places, promoting return to practice programmes and improving retention of existing staff.

Health Education England has already increased nurse training places by 14% over the last 2 years and is forecasting that more than 23,000 additional nurses will be in place by 2019. A campaign is also being run to get experienced nurses who’ve left the profession back to work to co-ordinate plans across the health and care sector to improve the retention of nurses.

This decision came following the report by Professor Sir David Metcalf , Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee in response to the Government’s Commission regarding nurses and the shortage occupation list.

In the report Sir Metcalf said  “The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) considered NHS nurses in its partial review of the Shortage Occupation List in February this year. At the time, the MAC’s decision not to place nurses on the SOL was based in large part on detailed evidence provided by the Centre for Workforce Intelligence, on behalf of the Department of Health.

He continued by adding  that “The MAC is aware the balance of nursing labour supply and demand has altered in recent months and welcomes the opportunity provided by the Government’s commission to review the latest evidence. “In addition, there has also been public comment on the salary threshold of £35,000 for Tier 2 migrants who wish to settle in the UK from 2016. The MAC recommended this figure in 2011 and stated the Government may wish to consider some exceptions, including nurses. Of course, inclusion on the SOL means the £35,000 salary threshold does not apply.”

Commenting on the MAC’s most recent report reviewing whether nurses should be placed on the shortage occupation list, he said  “Partial review of the shortage occupation lists for the UK and for Scotland” (Migration Advisory Committee, February 2015) and is available at

The MAC report on salary thresholds for settlement in the UK is “Analysis of the Points Based System: Settlement rights of migrants in Tier 1 and Tier 2” (Migration Advisory Committee, November 2011) and is available at

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was commissioned by the Home Secretary Theresa May in October 2015 to examine whether there is a shortage of nurses or specific nursing job titles which it would be sensible to fill through non-EEA migration.
In her letter to Sir Metcalf she said in view of the potential risks associated with high vacancy rates and the fast approaching winter period in which we can expect the NHS to be under particular pressure, she has exceptionally agreed to place nurses on the shortage occupation list on a temporary basis pending that full review of the evidence and the MAC’s subsequent advice.
Further details can be found at

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