Over the weekend my piece on why the UK government turned away more than 2,700 non-EU nurses was widely circulated on Twitter and Facebook, but after getting into a conversation with someone on Twitter, it became obvious that I hadn't been as clear as I should have been.
The NHS has a recognised shortfall of nurses; the UK simply does not have enough nurses to meet its needs, and nurses are not coming from the EU to fill that gap. Nursing is on the Shortage Occupation List, which means it is a non-EU immigration priority. Despite this recognised shortfall, last year the government turned away more than 2,700 nurses, predominantly from India and Indonesia. To be absolutely clear, these weren't individuals who were seeking to come to the UK to chance their luck and find employment - quite the opposite - they had job offers, most of them from NHS trusts. And still they were refused entry, because the government had hit its non-EU immigration cap.
NHS Immigration Applications by Decision
Source: Migration Advisory Committee Review of Nursing, March 2016
Data: Home Office
The Tier 2 immigration cap is a paltry 20,700 per year. It covers every industry and every business in the UK that wants to bring in non-EU workers, not just the NHS. All employers are competing against each other for places within the cap and once the monthly limits have been reached, that's it. So, last year, because monthly limits had been reached, 2,700 non-EU nurses weren't able to take up their jobs in the UK with the NHS.
The non-EU immigration cap is so low because it's the only thing the UK government can control. The EU's fundamental free movement of people means that EU citizens can come to the UK regardless of their capabilities, contribution or prospects. Nobody would be foolish enough to believe that net migration can run at its current high level without impacting public services, so the government controls what it can and severely restricts non-EU migration from Africa, Asia, the Americas - everywhere that isn't the EU.
Many people from the Remain Campaign accuse those of us who want to leave the EU of being racist. I've previously written about my background, and find the accusation particularly offensive. It is an easy way to shout down debate, and dehumanise people on the other side of the argument by regarding them as morally deficient. It is far more difficult to look beyond the slogans and understand complex immigration policy to see that it is our current immigration system that is flawed and discriminatory.
The majority of people campaigning to leave are not racist, in fact, the reverse is true. We recognise that our EU membership has led to the implementation of an immigration policy that discriminates against poor, largely non-White people from the rest of the world, and these 2,700 non-EU nurses are just some of the many concrete examples of this discrimination. People on both sides of the referendum debate have been crying out for facts. The nurses the UK government rejected are 2,700 incontrovertible, specific instances of its flawed, EU-skewed, discriminatory immigration policy in action.
It isn't just skilled non-EU workers who suffer because of the UK's discriminatory immigration policy, it's the British people. We desperately need skilled workers. In this particular case, NHS trusts across the UK identified a need for 2,700 non-EU nurses and tried to bring them into the country to address the recognised nursing shortage. They were prevented from doing so, meaning that the shortage was not addressed and the Migration Advisory Committee concludes that the shortage continues. A shortage of nurses puts additional, unnecessary pressure on existing staff and on patients.
The Migration Advisory Committee states that NHS trusts across the UK say they expect to have to bring in more than 14,000 non-EU nurses over the next four years. The long-term solution to the shortage is to reverse the cuts to nursing bursaries and give young people the opportunity to train, but in the short-term the UK has a nursing shortfall that urgently needs to be addressed. There are people who are willing to help us meet that shortfall, but they are prevented from doing so because they lack EU passports.
Our membership of the EU is directly responsible for the government's perverse non-EU immigration policy, and the fact that it is prepared to inflict hardship on NHS staff and patients in order to appear tough on immigration suggests that, as in so many areas, the government is engaged in all sorts of painful contortions in order to avoid confronting the real issue: EU membership no longer serves the best interests of the British people.
Members of Parliament are now discussing options for a post-Brexit future, and the Bank of England is planning for Brexit, both of which are good, sensible steps. They show that the mood has changed. Project Fear has admitted defeat, and the truth, which most sensible people have always known, is that the sky will not fall in if we leave. I can only hope that our democratic representatives will not betray their mandate and try to use nefarious means to keep us in the EU. Doing so, after having lost the argument in a fair contest, would only fuel popular discontent and push people towards parties outside of the political mainstream. In Scotland, Labour learned to its cost what happens when a political party does not listen to the will of its supporters; the consequences are catastrophic.
Word on the street is that if the Leave campaign continues to show such fantastic momentum, the EU will offer the UK a revised, improved deal shortly before the referendum. I sincerely hope the British people will not fall for a haggler's gambit, and, as I've noted before, will remember that this referendum is a vote on democracy. Britain needs to reclaim the power to decide its own destiny so that we never again see perverse situations such as the UK turning away 2,700 highly skilled people it so desperately needs.
P.S. When I say that Project Fear has admitted defeat, some zealots might not have got the message. If she can get time off from her multi-million Euro embezzlement and fraud trial, Christine Lagarde will probably make good on her earlier promise and deliver one last Project Fear zombie attack in the week before the referendum. Ignore it.