Former Labour and now Liberal Democrat MP Chuka Umunna branded the recommendation by right-wing think tank The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) “wrongheaded” and warned that raising the lower bracket would exclude nurses.
“It is an entirely wrongheaded policy that should be abandoned, not expanded”
However, Patrick Spencer, head of work and welfare policy at the CSJ and former Tory general election candidate, hit back and stressed that the report recognised the need for flexibility to continue to allow nurses, whose salaries start at £23,000, to migrate to the UK for work.
Under the current system, people from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who want to want to come to the UK on a skilled worker – or Tier 2 – visa must prove that they earn a minimum of £30,000 a year.
However, there are exemptions in place for people from certain occupations that are deemed to be in short supply, which currently includes nurses.
There are no such restrictions in place for workers from the EEA but after Brexit the visa system is due to apply the same to migrants from all countries.
In a report released today, the CSJ, which was co-founded by high-profile Conservative politician Iain Duncan Smith, called for the minimum salary threshold to be increased to £36,700.
In response, Mr Umunna wrote on Twitter: “The proposed £30k earnings threshold for migrants would be enough to exclude most nurses, doctors, teachers and social workers from coming to the UK as it is, nevermind £36k. It is an entirely wrongheaded policy that should be abandoned, not expanded.”
Mr Spencer fired back to “clear up any misinformation”.
“First off, we absolutely make provisions for the nurses whose job is of vital importance”
He pointed out that the CSJ’s report had urged the government to create a list of “strategically important occupations” such as nurses that were paid below £36,700 to allow them to still come to the UK.
“First off, we absolutely make provisions for the nurses, doctors, social care workers, and anyone whose job is of vital importance to our economy and society to come to the UK to work,” he wrote in reply to Mr Umunna.
“In our report…we state that the govt should put together a list of strategically important occupations, for instance NHS workers, ensuring nurses + other public sector workers (who are paid <£36,700) could continue to migrate to the UK to work,” he added.
The recommendation to raise the salary threshold also stirred concern at the Royal College of Nursing, which warned that nurses must continue to remain exempt from any such restrictions.
Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “Such a high salary threshold would prevent nurses and other health and care professionals from other countries being recruited to work here.
“International recruitment has always been a stopgap for long term vacancies and, as the government hasn’t invested in the long-term growth of the UK nursing workforce, the recruitment crisis will only worsen if nurses aren’t exempt.”
Figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council show the number of nurses and midwives from the EEA registered to work in the UK fell from 38,024 in March 2017, to 33,035 in March 2019.