Why Visa Restrictions Are Strangling Vet Practices

Historically, Veterinary Surgeons have been in short supply in the UK. As a result these roles have long been on the ‘shortage occupation’ list, allowing qualified professionals from outside the European Union to gain entry visas to the UK to fulfill vacancies in these roles.

Then, in October 2011 the UK government accepted a proposal from the independent Migration Advisory Commission to remove several professions (including Veterinary Surgeons) from the ‘shortage occupation’ list; Visa applications were no longer granted on the basis of veterinary qualifications.

The result has been to reduce the number of veterinary professionals from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa entering the UK. Traditionally the influx of staff from the southern hemisphere has boosted the locum sector of the industry and proven to be an invaluable resource for surgeries, particularly during the summer months. With the changes in visa regulations, suddenly a key staffing resource dried up, leaving surgeries desperately hunting for alternative solutions. Whilst the opportunity is now wide open to EU counterparts to fill positions in the UK, that doesn’t seem to have happened, leaving a big gap in the locum market.

In addition to man-hours and working practice flexibility, the presence of visiting professionals brought wide-ranging experience including farm and large animal knowledge.

Recently an article in the Daily Mail highlighted growing concerns over a shortage of British veterinary staff qualified in the area of farm animal medicine. The fear is that a lack of suitably experienced professionals will leave the UK paralysed in the event of another major disease outbreak. Additionally, proposed epidemic and disease prevention plans designed around animal welfare strategy will be difficult to implement. Such plans will inevitably be labour intensive, requiring additional qualified professionals to oversee and monitor them. Previously there would have been a ‘top-up’ pool of non-EU veterinary professionals to call on.

It isn’t only the large animal community feeling the pinch. Many practices have reported experiencing issues finding their own locum cover for their busy periods and during the summer months when holiday cover is required. Surgeries are finding their qualified staff has a higher expectation of work/life balance, with lighter out of hour’s schedules. As such, the demand for locums is growing and will continue to do so over the coming years.

Undoubtedly the idea behind the removal of Veterinary Surgeons from the ‘shortage occupation’ list was a noble act designed to reserve opportunity for homegrown talent. However, the knock-on effect has been to place increased pressure on a significant portion of the animal care community. With social and government focus being increasingly centered around the need for a higher degree of animal care, perhaps now is an excellent opportunity for the ‘shortage list’ to be reviewed once more.

References:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-200509/MPs-concerned-vet-shortage.html

Accessed 23rd May 2014

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/8784787/Shortage-of-James-Herriot-style-vets-threatens-food-safety.html

Accessed 23rd May 2014

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/40-000-fewer-jobs-open-to-migrants

Accessed 23rd May 2014

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