June 14, 2024

Labour has “no plans” to change rules barring health and care workers from bringing their families to the UK on their visas, despite a plummeting number of NHS staff since the rules were changed earlier this year.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said the health service had become too reliant on overseas staff and the party would aim to recruit and train workers from the UK.

Numbers applying for a health and care worker visa have dropped by 76% this year since the change, which the government hailed as a success in its bid to cut legal migration, but which experts said would have a significant impact on the health service.

The development comes as the government on Wednesday confirmed in writing for the first time that no asylum seekers will be flown to Rwanda before the general election.

At an election campaign stop in Worcester, Streeting told reporters that the NHS workforce was under huge pressure, but said there were no plans to change the rules.

He said it was also “immoral and unethical” to recruit from countries with severe shortages of health workers – those that come under the WHO’s red list – and said Labour would not continue that practice.

“I’m not aware of any plans by Yvette Cooper to change those rules,” said Streeting. “Obviously, we’re working really closely together and I want to make sure that by developing our homegrown talent, I help Yvette to reduce net migration.”

He added: “I think under the Conservatives, we’ve had an over reliance on international students and workers from overseas in our health and care system. And that’s risky because we’ve got a global shortage. So we shouldn’t assume that pool of talent will always be there for us to draw on.

“We are still turning away thousands of straight-A students from studying medicine each year. That’s something we’ve got to remedy. We’ve got to redress the balance.”

The government brought in the ban on dependants in March in an effort to reduce migration levels. Health and social care providers have warned the move could drive people from the sector, exacerbating staffing difficulties.

At the royal court of justice, meanwhile, government lawyers have told a judge that the government “does not intend to carry out enforced removals to Rwanda before the general election on 4 July 2024”.

The confirmation will offer a possible reprieve to more than 100 asylum seekers who have been warned they could be flown to Rwanda at short notice. Sunak’s Rwanda deportation scheme will be scrapped by Labour if it forms a government after the election.

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A court order was released on Wednesday by Mr Justice Martin Chamberlain after he had demanded a flight date so that he could work out when to hear a legal challenge from the FDA union against the deportation scheme.

The court order said: “On consideration of the government’s legal department’s letters of 28 May 2024 (stating that the government does not intend to carry out enforced removals to Rwanda before the general election on 4 July 2024) and 29 May 2024 (stating that they are not making representations that the hearing fixed for 6 June should be adjourned) the hearing fixed for 6 June 2024 will proceed as listed.”

The move follows comments last week in which Sunak appeared to admit that Rwanda flights would not take off before the election.

The government has spent £310m on the Rwanda scheme since it was proposed by Boris Johnson and Priti Patel in 2022. Another £200m would be spent over the next three years if 300 people were sent to Rwanda, the National Audit Office has said.

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