The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that immigration arrangements announced this morning for European Union (EU) citizens, in the event that the UK leaves the EU on 31 October without a deal, show some common sense – but still present challenges and will mean disruption to the NHS workforce.
The Home Office reiterated today that free movement as it currently stands under EU law will end with Brexit on 31 October 2019; although “for a transitional period after Brexit on 31 October 2019 until 31 December 2020, law-abiding EU citizens and their family members will be able to move to the UK and live, study and work as they do now”.
The arrangements confirmed by the Home Office this morning are that, in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal:
- EU citizens who are already resident in the UK before Brexit on 31 October 2019 have until at least 31 December 2020 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. Until then, they can continue to take up employment and rent property as now by showing their passport or national identity card. Their rights to claim benefits and access services in the UK will remain unchanged.
- After Brexit, EU citizens who move to the UK for the first time will be able to apply for a 36-month temporary immigration status – European Temporary Leave to Remain (Euro TLR). Applications to the new Euro TLR scheme will be simple and free and will be made after arrival in the UK. There will be no need for EU citizens travelling to the UK after Brexit to make any special arrangements. There will be some visible changes at the UK border, and tougher rules for criminals but otherwise EU citizens will be able to cross the UK border as now. EU citizens who move to the UK for the first time after Brexit and who do not apply for Euro TLR will need to leave the UK by 31 December 2020 unless they have applied for and obtained a UK immigration status under the UK’s new points-based immigration system.
The BMA warned that immigration restrictions will make it even tougher for the NHS to recruit and retain its staff. BMA Council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “While common sense has prevailed to a degree, with the government reversing its original absurd proposal to completely end freedom of movement immediately in the case of a ‘no deal’, serious concerns remain over what this new system will mean for EEA nationals arriving after October 31.
“Our health service is dependent on workers from the EU, including doctors, nurses and support staff, who deliver vital patient services, as well as medical academics who carry out valuable research. Moving from freedom of movement to this new system will still be highly disruptive to the healthcare workforce and to the health service itself – with three years providing no sense of stability.
“This timeline also presents challenges of its own, with medical degrees and specialty training exceeding three years. In practice, it would mean that an EEA medical student or doctor arriving in the UK after a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be required to apply for a new immigration status during either their degree or training. With EU applications to UK medical schools falling to their lowest point in a decade, this is only likely to act as a further deterrent.
“Overall, however, this will threaten the stability of the NHS workforce by deterring skilled and talented healthcare staff from choosing the NHS as their choice place to work.”
Dr Nagpaul warned: “This all comes at a time when many specialties are already facing acute shortfalls, including general practice, emergency medicine and paediatrics, and we are crying out for staff on hospital wards, GP practices and community settings across the UK.
“With less than two months to go before the UK could leave the EU without a deal, it is extremely concerning that the Home Office is only now providing this limited information for employers such as the NHS.
“Much more needs to be done to ensure that, given the timeframe, people will understand and be compliant with the system which, as it stands, is likely have a detrimental impact on our health service.”