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Sanwar Ali: addtional reporting and comments
The Home Office has announced free UK visa extensions for overseas health workers. Many health care workers, including many who have been on the frontline throughout the coronavirus pandemic will be given a free, 12-month extension. The extension will apply to eligible workers whose visas are due to expire before October 2021 and their dependants.
The UK has some of the highest visa fees in the world and so this visa fee concession will be welcomed by many. However, many have raised concerns that desperately needed care workers have not been included in this UK visa fee concession.
The list of professions eligible for the visa extension includes doctors, nurses, paramedics and midwives, with 14,000 health professionals expected to benefit. However, care workers have once again been overlooked, with Unison saying that the move should be extended to those working in the care sector.
Free automatic UK visa extensions were initially granted to health workers in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep across Britain. However, this was limited to NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics whose visas expired between 31 March 2020 and 1 October 2020. The extension was later expanded to include more professions.
More than 10,000 benefit
According to the Home Office, 10,000 health professionals were granted a visa extension in 2020. However, the government department’s latest announcement could benefit as many as 14,000 workers.
Under current rules, a health and care worker visa costs £232 per person and is valid for up to three years or £464 per person for a visa that’s valid for five years. The visa must be extended after five years, or if a worker switches jobs.
The visa costs £55 less for health workers if they are from one of the eligible European countries.
However, the extension is free of all fees and charges, including the UK Immigration Health Surcharge.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The dedication and skill of overseas health and care workers who are leading the UK's fight against coronavirus is truly extraordinary. They are now helping with the COVID vaccine rollout and the visa extension shows how much our country values the contributions of these heroes.”
Include care workers
Although news of the latest extension has been widely welcomed, the Home Office has been urged to include care workers in the move. Many have questioned why care workers continue to be excluded from visa extensions.
General Secretary of Unison, Christina McAnea, said: “Thousands of NHS workers will be relieved by this news. Many have been under huge strain and pushed themselves to the limit to look after us all. It’s only right the government looks after them and makes their lives a little easier by granting free visas.”
However, Ms McAnea was quick to criticise the exclusion of care workers and accused the Home Office of overlooking those working in care. She said: “The scheme should be extended to all employees in health and care, particularly the lowest paid who need the most help.”
Those benefitting from the extension will need to complete a simple online form to confirm their identity and employers will also be asked to confirm an employee’s eligibility.
Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “Our overseas health and care workers make such a vital contribution to our health system and have been a key part of fight against the pandemic. They are protecting our loved ones and vaccinating the public so that we can save lives and return to normality.”
“To help those staff from overseas, we are extending their visas to provide security while they continue to tackle this virus,” he said.
Health and Care Visa
The UK Health and Care Visa, which was launched in August 2020, makes it easier, quicker and cheaper for the world’s best health professionals to work for the NHS, the social care sector and organisations commissioned by the NHS to provide services, according to the Home Office.
The list of occupations eligible to benefit from the visa was expanded on 29 January 2021. According to Home Office data, more than 20,000 people have been issued with a Health and Care Visa.
Meanwhile, in 2020, the government department also expanded its Bereavement Scheme to all NHS, health and social care workers and continues to encourage healthcare workers who are EU, other EEA or Swiss citizens, or their family members to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, to secure their status in the UK.
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