Comments by Sanwar Ali:
Many migrants who come to the UK on some type of long term visa such as the Tier 2 visa find it very surprising that there should be an immigration health surcharge. Some people even think that it is voluntary and that you can pay for health insurance instead of this. This is obviously not true. You have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge in most cases at the rate of £400 per year in advance for the duration of the visa. The same amount is payable for partners and other dependents.
As has happened so much recently the Boris Johnson Government scared of what the public might think has become more generous to migrants. Policies are suddenly changed due to concerns over public opinion. The Immigration Health Surcharge is surely an unfair fee not just for health care workers, but for others as well.
UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has pledged to refund migrant NHS workers forced to pay the controversial UK immigration health surcharge (IHS), despite Johnson promising to scrap it amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson, who recently announced that social distancing rules and lockdown measures will be eased, enabling pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and other businesses to reopen on 4 July, 2020, promised to abolish the IHS back in May. However, over a month later, many non-UK NHS workers are still having to pay the controversial fee.
Leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, had urged the Prime Minister to explain why the IHS remains in place after more than a month has passed since he promised to scrap it, prompting the Prime Minister to say that refunds would be given.
Government under pressure
The government came under increasing pressure from health unions and ministers to end the IHS, which is paid by people living in the UK temporarily to cover the cost of any NHS care required, amid non-UK healthcare workers serving on the frontline in the battle against coronavirus.
During a Prime Minister’s Questions session on 17 June, Johnson said: “We are working to drop the fee applied to any NHS staff working during the pandemic as soon as possible.” However, Sir Keir Starmer demanded an explanation for the delay.
The fee is set to increase from £400 to £624 in October and applies to non-UK nationals who want to work, study or join family in Britain for more than six months, but don’t want to remain in the country permanently.
The NHS is accessible only when the IHS has been paid and a UK visa granted.
Can’t afford to scrap Immigration Health Surcharge
Prior to his U-turn in May, Johnson acknowledged the difficulties faced by NHS workers having to pay the fee, but added that the surcharge was vital to NHS funds and could not be scrapped.
The Prime Minister announced that the IHS would be waived for anyone working for the NHS during the pandemic, stating that he had been cared for by non-UK NHS staff when he was moved to intensive care after catching the virus.
Surcharge still active
Despite the Prime Minister’s promises, the IHS remains active more than a month later. Sir Stramer referred to a doctor he had spoken to personally who had been forced to pay £6,000 to ensure NHS access for his wife, four children and himself.
The Labour leader said: “These are people on the front line. The Prime Minister said he would act. When is he going to do so?”
Johnson has reiterated the importance of NHS staff and other key workers on the frontline ‘getting the support they need’. However, government immigration policies have not reflected the Prime Minister’s comments.
Amid the pandemic, Home Secretary Priti Patel has pushed ahead with the UK’s controversial immigration bill – set to come into effect on 1 January, 2021.
Meanwhile, there has been confusion over proposed visa extensions promised to ‘frontline’ workers and Johnson being oblivious to the UK’s No Recourse to Public Funds rule, which blocks many UK visa holding migrants from accessing state benefits.
Whether Johnson follows through on his pledge to end the IHS and give refunds, remains to be seen.
So far, Johnson has offered no additional information about the refund policy and how many people would be eligible to apply. The Home Office has also offered no comment.
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