Boris Johnson is promising a new “NHS visa” making it easier for doctors and nurses from around the world to work in the UK.
The new visa will ultimately form part of the Conservatives’ planned points-based immigration system after Britain leaves the EU.
The move reflects concern within the NHS that it will struggle to attract the staff it needs after Brexit.
Under the scheme, the cost of a visa for health professionals would be halved from £928 to £464, while applicants would be guaranteed a decision within two weeks.
Applicants coming to work in the NHS would receive preferential treatment with extra points under the points-based system, and no cap on numbers entering through the NHS route.
They would also be able to pay back the cost of the immigration health surcharge through their salary if the charge is not already covered by the NHS trust offering the job.
The Tories said they want to launch the scheme before the points-based system comes in in 2021.
They have already announced a fast-track visa route to attract specialists in science, engineering and technology.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he wanted to attract “the very best talent in the world” to come to work in the NHS.
“From its inception, the NHS has recruited globally,” he said.
“This new visa will make it easier for us to hire the finest doctors and nurses from other nations to come and work in the NHS – so that patients can receive the best possible care.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “These measures are part of our plan for an Australian-style points-based immigration system that allows us to control numbers while remaining open to vital professions like nurses.
“That means the best of both worlds – attracting talent from around the world so our NHS continues to provide brilliant service while ensuring that it isn’t put under strain by opening Britain’s borders to the entire world.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the Tories were “tying themselves in knots” over immigration.
“They use dog whistle anti-migrant rhetoric but are forced to accept we need migrant workers for key sectors, not just the NHS, but many more besides,” she said.
“This policy is full of holes, with nothing to say about the nurses earning below their income threshold, as well as all the cooks, cleaners, hospital porters and others who are vital to hospitals, and nothing at all about their right to bring family members here.”