Our policies

Immigration and the veterinary workforce

What's the issue?

Over half of the veterinary surgeons who register in the UK each year qualified elsewhere in the EU. In some sectors, such as the meat hygiene industry, over 95% of vets are non-British EU nationals. 

Before the EU referendum, practices reported difficulties recruiting vets. Since the referendum, recruitment problems have intensified and our EU colleagues have faced considerable uncertainty about their futures. Immigration law experts Squire Patton Boggs have produced an immigration FAQ for our members to help EU vets currently living and working in the UK, and their employers.

After Brexit, demands on the veterinary workforce will increase. For example, the volume of veterinary certification required to export animals and animal products will increase significantly.

In 2011, veterinary surgeons were removed from the Shortage Occupation List, which makes it easier to recruit from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Following our joint campaign with RCVS, in May 2019 the Migration Advisory Committee recommended that vets should be reinstated to the list.

Leaving the EU will end free movement. Throughout 2019 the UK government has been consulting on a new single immigration system for the future.

What's our view?

It is vital that enough vets can be recruited and retained to make sure that essential veterinary work continues after Brexit.

After the EU referendum we successfully campaigned for vets to be re-added to the Shortage  Occupation List (SOL). Our joint evidence  with RCVS to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) set out the economic and political case for vets to be restored to the SOL. The MAC concluded that vets are facing significant recruitment difficulties.

For future immigration policy, we have called on the government to prioritise vets, and consider the economic and social impact of the profession beyond its relatively small size. 

Any future immigration system must uphold animal health and welfare, food safety, and public health, and help facilitate trade. The system must therefore factor in the needs of the veterinary profession, including:

  • the projected increase in demand for vets following the UK's exit from the EU;
  • the difficulty in meeting this demand with UK citizen vets, including the time and resource needed to increase vet school capacity; and
  • the fact that many veterinary practices are small businesses that would find it difficult to meet the demands of a visa-based system.

We are working with Defra, RCVS, devolved administrations, Food Standards Agency, APHA, and Food Standards Scotland on the cross-profession Future Veterinary Capability and Capacity Project, which is addressing longer term workforce issues in the UK.

Get involved

Contact our policy team for more information.