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Can sponsorship of international staff help tackle the shortage of dentists and dental practitioners in the UK?

Can sponsorship of international staff help tackle the shortage of dentists and dental practitioners in the UK?

The British Dental Association (BDA) reports that, “Two thirds (65%) say their practices have unfilled vacancies for dentists. 82% of those reporting vacancies cite working under the current discredited NHS contract as a key barrier to filling posts, over half (59%) cite issues relating to remuneration levels, and 30% difficulties attracting candidates to remote, rural or deprived communities. 29% say posts have been unfilled for more than a year.”

One option to address the shortage of staff is to sponsor dentists and other dentistry roles from overseas to work in the UK.  The following roles are eligible for the Health and Care Worker visa, which is a sub-category of the Skilled Worker visa:

  • Dental surgeon, dentist, orthodontist, periodontist;
  • Dental hygiene therapist;
  • Dental hygienist and dental technician; and
  • Dental assistant, Dental nurse, Dental nurse-receptionist and Dental surgery assistant.

What does this mean for Dental Surgeries in practice?

Sponsor Licence

To sponsor oversees workers, including dentists, employers need to apply and obtain a sponsor licence from the Home Office, specifically confirming their intention to sponsor Skilled Workers.  An organisation needs to show they meet certain requirements such as they are a genuine business and are operating lawfully in the UK.

The cost of applying for a sponsor licence depends on the size of the business.  A Dental Surgery, which comes within the definition of a “small sponsor”, pays a lower fee of £536 and for all other Dentistry businesses, the fee is £1,476.

Reduced Visa fees and quicker visa decisions

For dental businesses to be eligible to sponsor under the Health and Care Worker visa, you must be the NHS or provide medical services to the NHS.  Alternatively, if the worker is employed or engaged by, or registered with the General Dental Council, they can be sponsored under this route, subject to the visa requirements being met.

The inclusion of the aforementioned Dentistry roles on the Health and Care Worker Visa route permits eligible employers to sponsor employees with the benefit of the employee no longer being required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge, which would be applicable to those sponsored under the Skilled Worker visa route.  Eligible sponsored workers under the Health and Care Worker visa route will also benefit with reduced application visa costs: £247 for sponsorship for up to 3 years and £479 for more than 3 years.

From a business continuity perspective, the Home Office prioritises the Health and Care Worker visa applications, with applications submitted from outside the UK being determined within 3 weeks.

Can you sponsor self-employed associates?

An important aspect to consider is the employment status of the worker you would like to sponsor. The BDA reports that, “Self-employment has long been the default status for associates in general dental practice. Discussions with our members over the years, and more recently, have confirmed that most practice owners and associates prefer the self-employed model to any other.”

Sponsor licence holders with permission to sponsor under the Skilled Worker route will be able to sponsor self-employed workers, including associates in your dental practice, subject to there being a genuine contract for employment or services between you and the worker.

Benefits of sponsorship

There are a number of benefits to sponsorship for employers.  From a recruitment perspective, your dental practice will have access to overseas workers and have a greater degree of confidence in being able to retain your staff.  Importantly, sponsored workers tend to stay with their employers for at least the duration of their sponsorship visas, particularly as they must complete five years continuously on the Skilled Worker visa route before they can consider settlement (indefinite leave to remain) in the UK.

Dentistry has been affected by unprecedented levels of staff shortages and for the reasons outlined above; we would recommend you carefully consider applying for a sponsor licence as a solution to these staff shortages.

About the authors

Jacqueline Moore
Jacqueline Moore

Jacqueline Moore


Immigration & Visas

Michael Royden
Michael Royden

Michael Royden


Corporate & Commercial

For more information, contact Jacqueline Moore or any member of the Immigration & Visas team on +44 131 376 0256.