Comments by Sanwar Ali
Seems that it was never the intention to seriously consider removing the requirement that health care staff mainly on Tier 2 visas and their dependents, pay the immigration health surcharge. The Conservative Government probably feels that they have to take into account anti-immigration sentiment from some people. Interesting that many at the top of Government have immigrant ancestry from not that long ago. Perhaps already thinking of how people might vote at the next General Election!
Workpermit.com recently reported on the UK Home Secretary’s promise to review the controversial immigration health surcharge for migrant health staff working in the NHS, amid the frontline battle against coronavirus. Priti Patel hinted at concessions for those putting their lives at risk on a daily basis in hospitals across the UK.
However, just three weeks after promising a review, the Home Secretary has sparked fury by announcing that the surcharge will remain. Ministers argue that the surcharge represents an ‘important principle’ that everyone who comes to the UK to work, must contribute extra to the NHS, according to a report published by The Independent.
After promising to review the immigration health surcharge, introduced in April 2015, Patel raised expectations that migrant NHS staff would be made exempt from the fee, which is in addition to their UK visa costs and payable annually. The Home Secretary has publicly praised foreign NHS healthcare staff for their ‘extraordinary contribution’ during the crisis.
Immigration health surcharge to rise
Patel’s announcement that the surcharge will remain means that fee increases, outlined in the UK’s 2020 budget, will go ahead. The surcharge is set to soar by £224, rising from £400 per year to £624 per year as of October 2020.
The controversial fee, which has been described as an additional tax on migrants, will be extended to include EU citizens from 1 January, 2021 – the day that the Brexit transitional period ends. This is assuming that the transitional period is not extended.
The immigration health surcharge has been described as a ‘crippling cost’ for families. The fees are applicable to both spouses and children, which means the surcharge alone can cost a family of four on a five-year work permit or with limited leave to remain in the UK, as much as £8,000.
According to The Independent’s report, the Home Office said that there was no ‘review’, beyond waiving the surcharge where visas had been extended by 12 months, despite the Home Secretary describing it as such on national television.
The decision to continue charging migrant NHS workers additional fees for their own healthcare, despite helping to save people’s lives while endangering their own, ‘beggars belief’ said the British Medical Association. It comes amid a huge outpouring of support and greater appreciation from the public for Britain’s frontline staff during the crisis. Meanwhile, the Labour Party described Patel’s announcement as ‘unconscionable.’ In a letter to the Home Secretary, following the announcement that the health surcharge would remain, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) urged Priti Patel to scrap the charge, but said it received no reply.
Health groups have long protested against what it describes as an ‘unfair additional charge imposed on migrants’, given that they pay tax and national insurance, which means they are effectively paying twice. The controversial surcharge is demanded in advance for the entire duration of an applicant’s UK visa and cannot be deferred.
Migrant NHS workers
Approximately one in seven NHS workers is a migrant and the UK’s dependence on foreign-born healthcare professionals has been widely highlighted amid the coronavirus pandemic. During a press conference at Downing Street on 25 April, the Home Secretary had seemingly bowed to growing pressure to scrap the surcharge for NHS staff. When asked if the surcharge would be stopped, she said “yes, it is under review.”
“We are looking at everything, including visas and surcharge. We are speaking about the healthcare professionals, the medics, the doctors and nurses and allied healthcare professionals who have come to the UK,” Priti Patel said.
A spokesperson for the RCN said: “Nursing staff already contribute through taxes and national insurance. To ask them to pay twice is simply wrong. We await a response and commitment to act on this.”
Meanwhile, council chair at the BMA, Dr. Chaand Nagpaul said: “In the last two months, we’ve seen a huge outpouring of support for our frontline staff, including those talented colleagues who have come to work here from overseas.
“I’m sure they would be dismayed to find that the government is continuing to penalize them with this absurd fee during the crisis.”
Labour’s shadow health minister, Justin Madders, said: “Ministers frequently tell us how proud they are of the incredible effort being made by NHS staff, yet when they have the opportunity to do something tangible to demonstrate their appreciation they pull the rug up.”
“The NHS would fall over without overseas staff and in the current climate it is simply unconscionable for this government to be slapping extra charges on them,” Madders added.
Coronavirus in the UK
As of 18 May, 2020 coronavirus cases in the UK had reached 243,695 with 34,636 deaths, which is reportedly the highest death toll in Europe. During the government’s live, daily update on coronavirus on Sunday 17 May, it was announced that £84 million will be pledged to mass produce a vaccine trialled by Oxford University, if trials are successful.
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