Smith Warns UK Immigration Changes Risk Exacerbating Veterinary Recruitment Crisis

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Categories: Agriculture and Farming, Animal Welfare, Brexit, Local Business, UK Government (Westminster)

Stirling MP Calls on DEFRA to Back BVA Proposals

SNP MP Alyn Smith has urged the UK Government to reconsider its changes to immigration rules, warning that they will have “far-reaching implications” for veterinary recruitment across these islands.

The MP for Stirling and Honourary Associate of the British Veterinary Association has written to Steve Barclay MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs outlining his concerns that the new visa threshold of £48,100 will have a damaging effect on veterinary surgeon recruitment, particularly since numbers have dropped sharply post-Brexit.

Smith’s letter follows similar calls from the BVA and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) who have argued that a more proportionate solution would be to set the applicant salary threshold for veterinary surgeons to the standard rate of £38,700 rather than the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2020 system.

The UK faces a well-recognised veterinary workforce shortage and is heavily reliant on overseas graduates registering and practising across these islands. Brexit has had a significant impact with registrations from graduates of EU veterinary schools dropping from a height of 1195 in 2018 (over half the total) to only 365 veterinary surgeons in 2021. The numbers registered have subsequently only recovered to a total of 536 in 2023.

Equally, data from the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons in 2022/2023 indicates that UK veterinary surgeons typically do not reach the £48,100 salary threshold until they are at least five years post-graduation. Starting salaries for overseas veterinary surgeons working in the UK are likely to be lower due to their lack of prior UK practice experience.

Writing to the Secretary of State, Smith said:

 ‘I am concerned that the short-sighted nature of the changes will have far-reaching implications for areas such as public health, veterinary education as well as remote and rural livestock practice.

‘As the BVA has highlighted there has been a significant decline in overseas graduates joining the UK register, in particular from the EU, due to the post-Brexit requirements of applying for visas, requirements for sponsorship from employers, and the need for an English proficiency test. Whilst Veterinary surgeons under the age of 26 will be eligible to use the Skilled Worker Option E (with a salary threshold set at 70% of the going rate or £33,670), this is only applicable to a narrow range of individuals given that veterinary surgeons undergo a five- or six-year degree course.

‘The introduction of new skilled worker visa rules requiring veterinary surgeons to meet a salary threshold of £48,100 risks exacerbating this decline in veterinary numbers since it will make it almost impossible to recruit from overseas unless they are either very experienced or under 26 years of age. I would agree with the BVA’s proposals that a more proportionate solution would be to set the applicant salary threshold for veterinary surgeons to the standard rate of £38,700 rather than the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2020 system.

‘I would be grateful if you could consider this matter urgently and support the BVA’s calls to reconsider the new immigration rules for veterinary professionals.’

Notes to editors:

BVA and RCVS letter to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Friday 4th April as below.