If the rules are not relaxed to hire foreign nurses, mostly from India and Philippines, then their absence will be "keenly" felt, Britain's state-run National Health Service has warned the government.
Ten National Health Service (NHS) hospital trusts and NHS Employers organization have written to UK home secretary Theresa May demanding that nursing be officially listed as an occupation with official shortages so that they can hire at least 1,000 more nurses from India and the Philippines to fill urgent vacancies for this year.
India is the second-largest supplier of nursing staff to the country after the Philippines, with over 15,000 Indian nurses fulfilling shortages within the NHS. NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said that a large number of applications have already been rejected.
"These are nurses who've been recruited and could start work in the NHS shortly, but we can't get them into the country. They are trained, registered nurses recruited from outside the EU most typically from India and the Philippines," he said.
"Their absence will be keenly felt. We are asking Theresa May to relieve the pressure on already stretched services as we head into the winter months. The public might, like us, be surprised to learn that the list of occupations with shortages includes computer games designers and even ballet dancers but not nurses," he added.
NHS Employers believe 1,000 certificates of sponsorship for such foreign nurses will be needed in the next six months. The UK's independent Migration Advisory Committee had recommended against adding nurses to the list earlier this year. They have been asked to review the decision but will not report back until December, which hospitals argue is too late.
"We welcome the additional investment in training but won't feel the benefit of that for another two years. We believe nurses should be placed on the shortage occupation list for two years. We accept after 2017/2018 it would no longer be appropriate," Mortimer said.
Nurses have been typically brought into the UK from non-EU countries under the Tier 2 immigration category.
Earlier this year, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) had also warned against a new salary threshold of 35,000 pounds a year triggering shortages in years to come. The cut-off date for the new rules has been set at 2011, meaning the first batch of nurses earning less will be sent home in 2017.
"NHS trusts have been given more than 1,400 Tier 2 certificates of sponsorship for nurses since April this year, but over 600 of the places allocated to them in April and May this year have been returned unused," a Home Office spokesperson said.
"We will continue to monitor Tier 2 take-up, but have no plans to change the level of the annual limit of 20,700 places," the spokesperson said.