A quarter of vets practising in the UK are from overseas, and without them there would be a national shortage. However, if you want to recruit an overseas vet the rules can seem daunting. Claire Millington, of the RCVS's communications department, explains what you need to know
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THERE may be no medals for the veterinary surgeons accompanying the equine competitors in the 2012 Olympics, but their contribution will be widely acknowledged in the veterinary world – and the RCVS is already working with the Olympic organisers to help their visits run smoothly. Less celebrated than their Olympian colleagues, though, are the expatriate vets working day in and day out throughout the UK, helping to keep the ‘home’ practices running.
‘There are currently 4608 vets who qualified overseas and are registered as practising in the UK,’ says Christine Fraser, head of registration at the Royal College. ‘Without these vets there would be a national shortage and animal health and welfare would suffer.’
If you're recruiting, and want to employ one of these ‘foreign’ vets though, what practicalities should you find out about? ‘You need to make sure from the start that they are eligible to register as a veterinary surgeon in the UK,’ Christine says. ‘From the RCVS's point of view, if you're employed to work in a UK veterinary practice you must be registered as home-practising.’
Getting your head around the rules can take a bit of doing. For example, a vet might be born in Cape Town, graduate from Liverpool, register with the RCVS as ‘overseas-practising,’ work in Hong Kong – and then apply for a job in your practice. In this case, the vet would need simply to change their registration to home-practising; however, both you and the vet also need to comply with the UK government's system for foreign workers, and these nationality-based employment rules are not set by the RCVS.
Who can register?
If a vet qualifies outside the UK, can they simply register with the RCVS? ‘They can if they have a qualification we accept, and – due to government rules – this may also depend on their nationality,’ says Christine. ‘Or they can take the RCVS statutory membership exam.’
So which qualifications count? Outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, there are specific qualifications that the RCVS has approved for registration, including qualifications awarded in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the USA and Canada. Within the EEA and Switzerland, however, the RCVS is legally required to register anyone whose circumstances give them European community rights and who has a qualification listed in the European Directive 2005/36/EU – essentially, qualifications that would let a vet register with their own national authority. A comprehensive list of these qualifications, eligibility criteria, and information about how to register, is available on the RCVS website, www.rcvs.org.uk
‘Colleagues across Europe are working to improve consistency of standards in veterinary education,’ says Freda Andrews, head of education at the RCVS. ‘The European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE) is a membership organisation that evaluates veterinary schools in Europe.’
The EAEVE website (www.eaeve.org) has a list of European veterinary schools, showing when the school was last visited and whether it has been approved by EAEVE. Although the EAEVE's evaluation visits don't carry any legal weight, a school's approved status is a useful indicator for employers to take into account when considering taking on a graduate from a European veterinary school. In this respect, the veterinary profession is in a stronger position than the other professions covered by the European Directive's requirement for automatic registration, such as doctors, dentists and pharmacists.
The English language skills of EU-qualified doctors have been much in the news recently, and the RCVS is in the same position as the General Medical Council: it is legally not allowed to blanket-test the language skills of European-qualified vets. However, the EU Directive whose transposition into UK law prevents this testing is itself under review by the European Commission.
The RCVS is gathering data and will make its submission to this Europe-wide consultation. In the meantime, employers considering employing a vet from an EU member state should satisfy themselves that the applicant has an adequate grasp of English in order to work in their practice. There is no legal restriction on employers setting competence tests for prospective employees.
Vets who register using RCVS-recognised qualifications from outside the EEA/Switzerland all qualify from English-speaking veterinary schools recognised by the RCVS and should have a good level of English.
Complying with national employment rules
Beyond the questions of registration and language competence, employing foreign nationals means complying with government employment rules. Although there are no restrictions on workers from most EEA countries or Switzerland, complex rules still exist regarding people who are nationals of any country joining the EU in (or after) 2004.
To employ a vet from further afield means checking that they have an appropriate visa, and usually involves using the points-based visa system under which the government classifies vets as either ‘Tier 1 highly skilled workers – general,’ or ‘Tier 2 skilled workers – general’. A ‘Tier 2′ visa requires the employer to act as a sponsor and sets out minimum pay rates.⇓
The government has also said that, from July 19, it would be approving fewer Tier 1 and Tier 2 applications as part of its aim to cap migration to the UK. It is not yet clear how this will be decided or how it will affect the veterinary profession, and the RCVS will respond to the Government's Migration Advisory Committee on these issues before the September deadline. Information for employers on nationality and employment, and changes to the foreign workers rules, is published on the UK Borders Agency website (www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk).
Overseas vets seeing practice
Sorting out correct registration is necessary even if a suitably qualified vet just wants to see some practice and find their feet before finding a job. ‘Getting UK experience first is commendable; however, vets still need to register as home-practising,’ says Christine. ‘In particular, we have come across isolated cases where vets have worked as veterinary nurses without proper registration – either as a vet or as a VN.’
Veterinary surgery and veterinary nursing are different occupations, with different skills and training, so working as a veterinary nurse is not a good way for a vet to get appropriate experience, and could result in them inadvertently breaking the law. Even if listed/registered with the RCVS, veterinary nurses may not diagnose or prescribe, they must always work under veterinary supervision or direction, and are limited in the veterinary procedures they can legally undertake. This limited range of work is unlikely to satisfy a veterinary surgeon seeking to broaden their experience or a practice wishing to use the full range of skills of a qualified vet. Conversely, a vet is unlikely to offer the range of supportive nursing skills expected of a listed or registered VN.
‘Vets looking to familiarise themselves with UK practice could consider registering as home-practising and then sign up for the RCVS Professional Development Phase,’ Freda suggests. ‘Although designed to develop the confidence and competence of newly qualified veterinary surgeons, PDP is also useful as a benchmark for experienced vets who have had time away from practice or for overseas vets to find out what's expected of a recently qualified vet in clinical practice.’
Statutory membership exam
If a vet is not eligible to register, they need to take the RCVS statutory membership examination. Fewer than 20 vets each year come onto the Register through this route, and this year they included seven British students who received degrees from St George's university in Grenada.
Vets preparing for the statutory exam can see practice to gain clinical competence and experience of UK veterinary procedures. However, this places the candidate in the same position as an undergraduate student undertaking extramural studies and requires direct supervision by a named MRCVS. The candidate must inform the RCVS of the arrangements they have made to see practice via a form available within the registration section for veterinary surgeons on the RCVS website. Employers can check with the RCVS education department whether someone is a bone-fide exam candidate before offering them a placement.
Before they are allowed to sit the statutory exam, candidates also need to achieve level 7.0 in an IELTS English language test – the level that universities require for postgraduate study.