RCVS and BVA call for veterinary surgeons to be restored to the Shortage Occupation List

14 January 2019

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and British Veterinary Association (BVA) have once again joined forces to make a clear call for veterinary surgeons to be restored to the Shortage Occupation List as part of the UK’s preparations for leaving the European Union.

The organisations made the joint submission to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) as part of the MAC’s review into the Shortage Occupation List which began in autumn 2018 and will report back in spring 2019. BVA and RCVS had previously made calls for the profession to be added to the list in 2017 when the MAC held a call for evidence on the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on various professions. The latest joint submission is a development on this previous submission, focused on the need for the post-Brexit immigration system to recognise the issues affecting the veterinary workforce, which is already under-capacity, and reiterating its importance in areas such as public health, food safety, disease surveillance and control, education, research, clinical practice and animal welfare.

The submission details how the demand for veterinary services does not currently match supply and that the UK is therefore reliant on overseas registrants, particularly from the rest of the EU, who currently make up around 50% of new registrants in a given year. The RCVS and BVA add that, in the post-Brexit immigration system, this reliance on overseas vets needs to be recognised by adding veterinary surgeons to the Shortage Occupation List, thus reducing the immigration requirements needed for overseas veterinary surgeons to live and work in the UK and streamlining the application process for employers.

Commenting on the submission Amanda Boag, RCVS President, said: “We wanted to use this submission as an opportunity to reiterate the circumstances currently facing the profession, particularly in light of the uncertainties around the UK’s exit from the EU and the impact this could have on the supply of veterinary workforce from the rest of the EU, which is crucially important in a number of areas. We need, therefore, for veterinary surgeons to be immediately added back to the list so that we can ensure that this flow of workforce continues and that animal health and welfare is protected.

“In the meantime we are continuing to work with BVA and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to look at how we can develop ‘home-grown’ veterinary capacity in the UK through expanding the UK veterinary education sector, increasing retention rates within the profession, and looking at how the veterinary team could be reformed to allow allied professionals, such as veterinary nurses, to take on extra tasks and free up veterinary time. However, these are all long-term projects and not quick fixes to the issues facing the profession.”

As well as calling for a future immigration system to prioritise the veterinary profession, RCVS and BVA also recommend that veterinary employers be exempt from the Immigration Skills Charge to avoid additional barriers or burdens to the employment of overseas vets and recommend that there is no minimum earning cap for veterinary surgeons applying for work visas, on the basis that veterinary surgeons are ‘skilled professionals who may choose to work in the UK for reasons other than remuneration’.

Simon Doherty, BVA President, commented: “It is in MAC’s gift to reinstate vets on the Shortage Occupation List and this evidence makes a strong case for it to happen as quickly as possible.  Vets deliver multiple benefits to animal health and welfare, public health and food safety, and they have a crucial role to play in future trade deals and keeping standards and confidence in UK exports high.  The profession is also indebted to a high proportion of skilled EU vets who have chosen to make the UK their home and place of work.

“With this in mind, the future immigration system must be geared around preserving veterinary capacity rather than introducing new layers of bureaucracy or restrictions on flexible movement between roles. We have raised concerns that extending the Immigration Skills Charge to EU workers would hit some areas of the workforce disproportionately hard, particularly the abattoir industry where 95 per cent of Official Veterinarians hail from overseas.

“With uncertain times ahead and demand for some veterinary services predicted to spiral after Brexit, it has never been more pressing to take decisive action to safeguard against shortfalls in capacity and give a vital vote of confidence in the veterinary workforce.”

To view the joint submission in full please visit www.rcvs.org.uk/brexit and find some of the supporting documents included in the submission here.