NHS nurses considering job offers in Canada as Home Office ‘risks worsening workforce crisis’ with visa fee hike

Doctors and nurses on an NHS ward (PA Wire)
Doctors and nurses on an NHS ward (PA Wire)

NHS nurses are considering job offers in Canada and the US as the dream of settling in Britain with their families becomes unaffordable following the Home Office visa fee hike.

The Government risks “worsening the NHS workforce crisis” by increasing fees from October 4, the British Medical Association has warned, labelling the move “self-defeating”.

Already “tens of thousands” staff short, the NHS faces a “disaster for patient care” and “yet more disruption” if migrant nurses leave, union Unison said.

Students, workers and families wanting to live in the UK will pay between 15 and 35 per cent more for their visa applications from next week, in a move the Home Office said will allow funding for public sector pay rises.

Anyone applying for indefinite leave to remain within the UK will have to pay £2,885, a rise of 20 per cent.

Nurses working for NHS England, who hoped to apply for this visa with their families, told the Standard an increase of around £3,000 in fees has forced them to consider jobs elsewhere.

“We’ve known England to be our home and we really, really want to stay here,” a Birmingham-based nurse told the Standard.

“Because of the cost my blood pressure is going up a little bit every single day, honestly, every single day I think about it.

“I can’t even sleep at night because I’m just thinking I have to go and borrow from the bank...so we will be able to afford it.”

It will cost the renal nurse, along with her husband, a lecturer, and three children, around £15,000 to settle permanently.

The Nigerian national said she has job offers in both Canada and the US, with the cost of her residency in Canada just £819 and her children £138 each.

“But I’ve lived in England for five years now. I’ve come to love living in this country. I love the job I do,” she said.

“I do appreciate the kind of health service that has been offered here.”

The mother-of-three told the Standard she knows at least five nursing colleagues who are also considering relocating, and more than 50 nurses who left the NHS in the past year due to expensive visa fees.

A Sussex-based nurse, who identified only as May, said she and her husband have worked for the NHS for two years but the visa fee increase has left them scouting for jobs in Australia instead.

“We are setting our sights to other countries with better wages and more welcoming rules for migrant workers. Many other colleagues of ours share the same sentiment and have started the process of taking examinations and applying for jobs overseas.

“We came to the country to contribute skills, knowledge and hard work in exchange for a decent life; but instead, we feel that we are extorted.”

A recent medical graduate and GP trainee, Hashim Barkouk, told the Standard: “Many healthcare professionals, myself included, are considering moving towards locum positions, which offer higher pay but pose a risk to the stability and continuity of our healthcare system”.

Mr Barkouk added: “I am surprised that the Government had little consideration for these critical issues and their potential consequences on the healthcare system.”

Dr Kitty Mohan, British Medical Association International committee chairperson, said: The Government’s increasingly hostile immigration policies, including these visa fee increases, risk doctors from overseas being deterred from working in the UK, which will inevitably impact patient care.

“Trying to push the cost of failure to manage public services onto people coming to work in our health system is self-defeating and short sighted. The Government must abandon the planned visa fee increases otherwise it will risk worsening the NHS workforce crisis.”

Unison, a union that represents nurses, said raising the cost of visas “is only going to encourage yet more overseas employees to quit the NHS”.

Head of health Sara Gorton said: “This spells disaster for patient care and means yet more disruption for under-pressure NHS trusts. Already tens of thousands of staff short, the health service needs all the help it can get.”

An ophthalmic technician at King’s Hospital London has been saving for three years to bring his wife and two children to the UK from Nigeria.

The NHS worker, who only wanted to be identified as Bambo, said his visa costs will amount to around £10,000, an extra £3,000 after the fee hike.

“The money is too much for a low income earner and all of a sudden [the Home Office] increases it. I don’t see the possibility of how people are going to meet [the costs]. I don’t see it,” he said.

“I know people who have moved to New Zealand before now because of this.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is right and fair to increase visa application fees so we can fund vital public services and allow wider funding to contribute to public sector pay."

The Home Office said it recognises the significant contribution of overseas NHS workers, especially during the pandemic, but must be fair to all who use the immigration system.

UK visa fees are broadly competitive when compared with the fees charged by comparative countries globally, the Home Office added.

The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England declined to comment.

If you are impacted by the visa fee increases and want to share your story please email miriam.burrell@standard.co.uk.