Only one-third of requests by overseas medics accepted, despite NHS staff shortages
More than 2,300 visa applications by doctors looking to work in the UK have been refused in five months, official figures show.
There were 3,597 requests from doctors for tier 2 visas between 6 November and 5 April, but only 34% were successful.
The figures, obtained by the law firm Eversheds Sutherland through a freedom of information (FOI) request, come after the home secretary, Sajid Javid, said he was “taking a fresh look” at the cap on skilled migrants.
The NHS has warned the limit is exacerbating staff shortages as hospitals struggle to cope with record demand. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has also lobbied for it to be lifted.
In the period covered by the FOI request, 2,360 visa applications by doctors from outside the European Economic Area were denied. The chances of success were more remote for junior doctors. While 90 of 97 applications by consultants were successful, among registrars, only 733 out of 2,341 (31%) were granted a visa.
Doctors fared worse than the average applicant for a tier 2 visa. In total, there were 18,517 applications during the five months, of which 8,330 (45%) were successful.
Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers, welcomed the prospect of a review of the tier 2 visa system, but said “a speedy, effective solution is urgently needed to clear the backlog” with the August intake and changeover period for many trainee doctors approaching.
NHSE said many of its employers could not obtain certificates of sponsorship for doctors during May.
Last week, Global Future, a thinktank, said hospitals need as many as 3,500 additional doctors a year to help address shortages unless they are removed from the skilled worker visa cap.
It found one in 11 health service posts were unfilled and – because demand is increasing – thousands more doctors and nurses will have to be recruited in the next 10 years.
The 20,700 annual limit for the tier 2 visa was introduced by Theresa May in 2011 when she was home secretary.
Last month, it was reported that the prime minister was blocking requests by at least three government departments to lift visa quotas temporarily to allow more overseas doctors to come to Britain to fill NHS staff shortages.
A British Medical Association spokesman said: “These figures demonstrate that the tier 2 visa cap is resulting in thousands of highly trained, experienced doctors being blocked from taking up empty posts in the health service that the NHS is unable to fill.
“This is a situation that we can ill afford at a time when the NHS is under unsustainable pressure from rising demand, stagnating budgets and widespread staff shortages.”
After Javid’s comments on Sunday, a No 10 source said the policy was under review.
Responding to the latest figures, the Home Office referred the Guardian to comments made by the immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, in the House of Commons on Monday.
“We keep the tier 2 cap under close review. Priority is given to doctors working in shortage specialisms, as determined by the migration advisory committee, and no one has ever been refused for any of those posts,” she said.
“We have taken steps to boost training places for nurses and doctors, and a record number of undergraduates will begin medical training by 2020, with 1,500 new places.”