My Lords, no application for a medical practitioner role that is on the shortage occupation list, which is based on advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee, has been refused a tier 2 skilled work visa. The Home Office publishes regular visa statistics. However, the Home Office visa case working system does not capture the profession of the applicant. That information is captured on the tier 2 visa application form, and to provide it would require a manual check of our records.
I am grateful to the Minister for the detail there but it does not actually answer my Question. I have some figures from NHS Employers, which says it knows of at least 400 cases of qualified doctors from overseas who have been offered jobs in the NHS but not been allowed in because of the lack of being in a designated shortage occupation and the pressure on tier 2 visas. When the NHS is short of thousands of doctors, applications from EEA doctors are diminishing and the NHS is actively recruiting overseas, what possible logic can there be for the doctors whom it has recruited then to be turned back and denied visas by the Home Office? Last week the leaders of 12 medical colleges, the BMA and NHS Employers wrote to the Home Secretary asking him to take action to end this ridiculous and indefensible situation that damages patients. Will the Government act now?
My Lords, there were quite a few points in that question. The noble Baroness’s first point was that there are 400 cases of doctors overseas who have been denied visas because they are not on the shortage occupation list. Therein lies the point: the shortage occupation list is arrived at with advice from the Migration Advisory Committee regarding those occupations that cannot fill the demand within the NHS. If we expand some of the doctor numbers that are not on the shortage occupation list, we are in danger of pushing out some of those other professions that we do need and that are on the shortage occupation list. We need to think about this in the round.
My Lords, I would like to give the Minister a direct example. In Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, children and young people with mental health problems are having to wait many months to access mental health treatment because the child and adolescent psychiatry consultant, who has been chosen and appointed, has not yet been granted a visa five months after the cap for tier 2 NHS workers was reached; on Friday it will be six months, and we will probably find that the same applies. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s hostile environment policy is now directly damaging patient care? Does she agree with my honourable friend Jon Ashworth, who asked the Home Secretary in a letter on 1 May:
“The visa rules clearly aren’t working in the best interests of NHS patients. I am asking that you put patient safety first by taking NHS workers out of the tier 2 visa system so that hospitals can get the right numbers of staff in place”?
My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary explained last week, the term “hostile environment”— coined by former Home Secretary Alan Johnson—is not one that he wishes to use because of all the negative connotations. Instead we will talk about a compliant environment—that is, complying with Immigration Rules. On the direct example that the noble Baroness gives me, I will not talk about specific examples because clearly I do not know the details of the case. I will go back to my original Answer, which says that no one on the shortage occupation list should be denied a work visa.
Will my noble friend give the House an assurance that all overseas doctors will be submitted to the same checks on their medical qualifications and knowledge of language as all EEA doctors are obliged to submit to before they are allowed to practise in this country?
All overseas doctors—I think my noble friend was talking about non-EEA doctors—should obviously have the requisite qualifications to practise. At the danger of repeating myself, if those doctors are on the shortage occupation list, there should be no bar to obtaining a visa.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Migration Advisory Committee. As someone once said, “Advisers advise, Ministers decide”. Are the Government confident that the restrictions on visas for particular occupations are supported by employers, stakeholders and the general public?
My Lords, I cannot speak for the general public at large. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that advisers advise, and those advisers advise on those professions for which we have a shortage. We have not talked about other professions, such as particular types of skilled engineers, which are in shortage in this country. She is absolutely right that Ministers then decide on what the criteria should be.