London: The UK government on Thursday confirmed plans to introduce a new visa for qualified doctors and nurses from countries around the world, including India, to address workforce shortages in the state-funded National Health Service (NHS).
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had made references to such a new so-called "NHS visa" on the election campaign trail, which was confirmed as part of the Queen's Speech in Parliament on Thursday - the formal process of Queen Elizabeth II laying out the parliamentary agenda of the newly-elected Boris Johnson led Conservative Party government.
"Steps will be taken to grow and support the National Health Service's workforce and a new visa will ensure qualified doctors, nurses and health professionals have fast-track entry to the United Kingdom," her speech notes.
"A modern, fair, points-based immigration system will welcome skilled workers from across the world to contribute to the United Kingdom's economy, communities and public services," it adds, in reference to another Johnson pledge ahead of the December 12 General Election - to introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system to attract the "brightest and best" from around the world.
An accompanying government briefing paper elaborates that under its "NHS People Plan", qualified doctors, nurses and allied health professionals with a job offer from the NHS, and who have been trained to a recognised standard, will be offered fast-track entry, reduced visa fees and dedicated support to come to the UK.
The British government has claimed that its new visa and immigration system, which would be in place post-Brexit once Britain has left the European Union (EU) next year, would be "fairer" as it would put skilled migrants from around the world at par once the EU's freedom of movement rules no longer apply to the UK.
The wide-ranging Queen's Speech covered a broad range of government plans, with the 31 January 2020 Brexit deadline at the heart of the agenda.
"Ministers will seek a future relationship with the European Union based on a free trade agreement that benefits the whole of the United Kingdom. They will also begin trade negotiations with other leading global economies," the speech notes.
It has also set an ambitious environmental agenda for the UK, which includes a ban on the export of polluting plastic waste to countries outside the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and establish a new, world-leading independent regulator in statute. India was among the countries that received some of the UK''s plastic waste until it brought in a law earlier this year to work towards ending that practice.
These changes will be included in a new Environment Bill, among the over 30 bills announced in the Queen's Speech, seven of which relate to Brexit.
The UK government also announced the shutting down of the Department for Exiting the European Union, commonly referred to as the Brexit Department, on 31 January next year - the deadline for Brexit.
"Staff have been spoken to today. We are very grateful for all their work and we will help everyone to find new roles," a government statement said.
Boris Johnson, who returned to the House of Commons earlier this week after winning an 80-seat majority in last week's polls, is set to bring back his Withdrawal Agreement Bill - the legislation that enables the UK to leave the EU - on Friday before Parliament breaks for its Christmas recess.
The break from the usual parliamentary convention of a Queen's Speech is a reflection of the urgency to get the legislation in place for the UK to meet the latest Brexit deadline in the New Year.