NHS workers from the EU should be automatically given British citizenship, according to a think-tank report.
In a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), the authors have said that, given 10% of NHS doctors are from the EU, citizenship rules should be reformed to prevent “a post-Brexit brain-drain” and a “health emergency”.
Figures from the Home Office show a 14% rise in EU nationals applying for British citizenship in the year prior to the EU referendum, which the think-tank says, “show the uncertainty the result of the referendum is causing”.
Chris Murray, an IPPR research fellow, said: “The need for clarity around the status of EU migrants is urgent and crucial for our economy. We are concerned about a larger number of highly-skilled EU nationals who may simply leave the country, causing a big brain drain that harms our economy.
“We need to keep attracting and retaining the best and brightest. We should fast-track access to citizenship for global talent. Our slow and bureaucratic system risks encouraging them to look elsewhere. And hard-working, well-integrated migrants should get a helping hand.
“The government should loan them the money to pay off the fee for citizenship over time. This is in the interests of our economy as much as in the interests of these migrants.”
The report, Becoming one of us: Reforming the UK's citizenship system for a competitive, post-Brexit world, proposes a series of long term reforms to Britain’s citizenship system to adapt it to the demands of a modern society.
The report recommends that highly-skilled migrants with globally competitive skills be offered a fast-track to citizenship in exchange for paying a higher fee, while migrants on low wages should be able to acquire citizenship with the help of an interest-free government loan similar to student loans.
The cost of applying for citizenship in the UK is now among the most expensive in the world at £1,236, which is a 25% increase on 2015 – and up from £200 less than 10 years ago.
This charge is almost ten times what it actually costs the Home Office to process a naturalisation application at £144.
Donna Kinnair, director of nursing, policy and practice at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “There remains a shortage of nurses in the UK to ensure services are adequately staffed, and a lack of concrete assurances over the future of EU nursing staff is making the situation worse. It is vital that valued colleagues are supported to stay.
“The IPPR is absolutely right that the NHS could not cope without the contribution of EU nationals. And because of years of short-sighted workforce planning, the NHS will continue to be reliant on international recruitment for the foreseeable future.
“Allowing any ambiguity about our NHS workforce to continue is a completely unfair way of treating people who are caring for our friends and families every single day.
“The UK must send a clear message that the people who keep its health service going will be treated fairly. Without a guarantee that EU nationals working in the NHS can remain in this country it will be much harder to retain and recruit staff from the EU, and patient care will suffer as a result.”