LONDON: The UK government is set to ease its immigration cap blocking professionals such as Indian doctors from being brought in to tackle shortages in the state-funded National Health Service (NHS).
UK home secretary Sajid Javid, who had promised a review on the issue earlier this month, will make a formal announcement on removing doctors and nurses from countries outside the European Union (EU) from the UK's annual visa cap of 20,700 tomorrow.
As part of the announcement, Javid is also expected to announce a wider ease up of the Tier 2 visa category to allow companies to be able to recruit highly-skilled professionals from non-EU countries.
The cap, currently on a monthly limit of around 1,600, is likely to be raised on a temporary basis to address shortages and needs of particular professions.
The move follows lobbying from healthcare groups around the country, including the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO).
"It is a first step to victory. The proof of the pudding will be in its eating and we eagerly await the details," said Dr Ramesh Mehta, President of the BAPIO.
"We had suggested a separate immigration category for healthcare workers and hope the Home Office would consider that proposal positively," he said.
The BAPIO has previously said that it has qualified Indian doctors on its list who can come in to the UK on a short-term basis to fill NHS shortages and gain training in the process.
However, the UK government's annual immigration target means they are not even applying as they will be refused a visa because of the monthly cap on overseas professionals being hit.
The cap under the Tier 2 visa category to allow companies to bring in professionals from outside the EU is set at 20,700 per year, with a monthly limit of around 1,600.
Until December last year, that limit had been exceeded only once in almost six years but since then that cap has been reached nearly every month.
According to latest figures, as many as 2,360 visa applications from non-EU doctors had been refused over the last few months, many of them from India.
The BAPIO and other groups had branded the government policy a "disaster", resulting in a "Scrap the Cap" campaign by the 'British Medical Journal'.
The British Medical Association (BMA), 12 medical royal colleges, NHS Employers, and other professional bodies had co-authored a letter to Javid last month asking for the visa cap to be reviewed.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, who had introduced the cap during her time as UK home secretary, had been opposed to any easing of immigration rule but has now been forced to buckle under pressure from within her own Cabinet.
"This is going to be a huge relief for trusts up and down the country who have been really struggling to fill their doctors and nurses vacancies," said Saffron Cordery of trade body NHS Providers.
NHS England had 35,000 nurse vacancies and nearly 10,000 doctor posts unfilled as of February this year.
Javid had triggered hope during an interview earlier this month that he plans to review the country's visa policy to ensure these vacancies can be filled up.
"Perhaps this is a sign that Sajid Javid is willing to take a bolder and more flexible approach to immigration, and deliver the kind of system that Britain will need after we leave the EU," said Sunder Katwala, director of the immigration think-tank British Future.
"It never made sense to turn away doctors and nurses that the NHS needs," he added.