Calls for foreign NHS staff serving on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus to be granted UK indefinite leave to remain are growing. Approximately 170,000 overseas nationals from across 200 countries work for the NHS, many of whom have a UK visa that can be extended by 12 months.
However, UK immigration advocates argue that a one-year visa extension is nowhere enough for foreign NHS staff, who have sacrificed so much, to plan a future around. Several campaign groups are now urging the UK government to grant foreign frontline NHS workers the right to remain in Britain indefinitely as recognition for their service throughout the coronavirus crisis.
Eva Omondi, a nurse who joined the NHS from overseas is one of many health professionals on the frontline helping in the fight against coronavirus. She told ITV News: “Seeing how [patients] die has been very emotionally draining.”
Anxiety over UK stay
However, Ms Omondi said uncertainty over her future in the UK only adds to the stress of her job. She said: “I want to make the UK my permanent home. The risk and the stress of working in the pandemic is enough price to pay to just ask for indefinite leave to remain.”
Towards the end of 2020, the Home Office launched the Health and Care Visa, which makes it easier and cheaper for foreign health professionals to come to the UK. Plus, it exempts overseas medical workers from the controversial Immigration Health Surcharge.
However, campaigners have argued that none of it goes far enough to reward ‘their sacrifice in service of others.’
Bangladeshi doctor, Pushpo Hossein, contracted COVID-19 within months of arriving in the UK to start work. She said: “I got high fevers, body ache. I also developed shortness of breath and that was very scary.”
Last year the government announced that the partner of any medical professional who died from COVID would be granted the right to stay in the UK. However, Doctor Hossein said that this was hardly an incentive to remain in Britain.
She said: “That makes me think I have to die to prove my loyalty. I feel betrayed sometimes. I feel very heartbroken.”
Private members bill
In January, a private members bill that would grant indefinite leave to remain in the UK to NHS workers was delayed under Common’s COVID-safety rules. However, the campaign is ongoing.
Christine Jardine, a Liberal Democrat MP, said: “We hear every-day about NHS staff who are contracting COVID-19. People who are doing that shouldn’t have to live with any possibility that they might be deported. That’s just not good enough.”
Foreign NHS workers have been promised a one-year extension on their current UK visa during the pandemic. However, campaigners argue that the extension doesn’t give health professionals, like Eva Omondi, the long-term security they desire.
Kevin Foster, the future borders and UK immigration minister, said: “We are hugely grateful for the vital contributions made by NHS staff during the pandemic and brought in a range of unprecedented measures to ensure the sector is supported fully.
“These include introducing a Health and Care Visa, which provides fast track entry, reduced fees and dedicated support for professionals and their families, and exemptions to the Immigration Health Surcharge for health and care workers.”
“We have also given a free, year-long extension to NHS staff whose visa is due to expire before March 31, 2021, and their dependents, so they do not have to worry about reapplying during this difficult time,” Mr Foster added.
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