UK visa status still being checked using NHS patient data

Sanwar Ali workpermit.com comment:

Unfortunately, what has happened is not surprising. You cannot always trust those that are simultaneously working with the Home Office and apparently working for Migrants at the same time, to always put the interests of migrants first. In this regard, we have already mentioned serious and ongoing problems with UK Visa and Immigration at the Home Office, and how information from third parties is used. 

If the migrant then goes to Court to defend their rights there are yet more problems (assuming that this is even possible!). The Court system is unjust and unfair to migrants and others. Legal representation and advice can also be very expensive. It seems that justice for many is simply unaffordable. You also cannot expect the other side to be honest and ethical in Court proceedings. The situation is so bad that lying to win cases is considered normal practice. Therefore, if you tell the truth in Court proceedings you are at a distinct disadvantage.

Some public bodies seem to consider it acceptable to mysteriously “lose” complaints that they do not wish to deal with, so making it easier to cover up dishonesty and incompetence. If Brexit does eventually happen the opportunity should be taken to reform the system.

Despite reportedly ending the practice, the Home Office continues to check the UK visa status of immigrant NHS patients, according to new information. The chief inspector of borders has reported that UK immigration enforcement teams are using hospital records to trace migrants with outstanding NHS debts of £500 or more.

In December 2018, workpermit.com reported that a controversial agreement between the Home Office and the NHS, had ended. Campaigners The Migrants’ Rights Network and Liberty, said a legal challenge to end the contentious agreement between the NHS and the Home Office had been a success.

However, the findings of the chief inspector of borders suggests that the Home Office continues to access the patient records of migrants in the UK. According to the chief inspector’s findings, migrant medical records are being used to ‘encourage’ migrants to pay back any outstanding debts with the NHS.

Additionally, medical records are being used by UK immigration compliance and enforcement teams to amend a person’s reporting restrictions, encourage their voluntary departure from the UK or to detain people who are not complying with UK immigration rules, according to the chief inspector’s findings.

Pressure to end practice of reporting Migrants to the UK Visa Department

In 2018, the Home Office came under considerable pressure to abolish its practice of using NHS patient information to trace minor migrant misdemeanours. Doctors, MPs and charities all challenged the practice and Westminster officials did change their protocols, only requesting access to NHS patient records in relation to serious crimes.

The government said it would only seek information - which was handed to the Home Office by NHS Digital on request through a memorandum of understanding – such as names, addresses and ages, of people being considered for deportation in cases involving ‘serious criminality.’

However, the chief inspector of borders’ findings show that data held on any migrant who has an outstanding debt of £500 or more owed to the NHS, can be used for UK immigration and enforcement purposes as a ‘compliant environment tool.’

Policy and advocacy manager for Doctors of the World, Anna Miller, said: “The practice confirms patients’ worst fears – that information they give to NHS hospitals could be used to arrest them in their homes.”

Ms Miller described how at her clinic many patients are afraid to get the hospital care they need for fear of getting huge bills and that their information will be accessed by the Home Office and used against them.

Miller said: “The practice places doctors and nurses in an impossible position. While hospital trusts are reporting people to UK immigration enforcement teams, it is very difficult to build a trusting relationship with patients.”

Home Office Immigration Enforcement Checking and Advisory Service

According to a report issued by the chief inspector of borders, there is very little engagement with relevant NHS trusts about the debtor data. The report also found that very few NHS trusts make use of the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement Checking and Advisory Service (IECAS).

Legal policy director at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Chai Patel, described how using the NHS as a ‘tool of UK immigration enforcement’, leaves people who are sick, in fear of seeking medical treatment.

Mr Patel said: “It corrupts the relationship of trust between doctor and patient and fundamentally undermines the commitment of the NHS to treat patients according to need, without asking questions.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “When overseas migrants incur a debt to the NHS of £500 or more, their future immigration applications may be refused until the debt is settled.”

“In such cases, all the circumstances are carefully considered in reaching the immigration decision, including human rights arguments which may override the existence of the debt. It is right that the NHS share debtor information with the Home Office, so that we can help protect this taxpayer-funded service from misuse,” the spokesperson added.

Non-EU migrants pay a premium for NHS healthcare

As well as standard UK immigration fees, non-EU migrants are currently subject to the Immigration Health Surcharge. The Immigration Health Surcharge is applicable to people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who are looking to live in the UK for a period exceeding six months for the purposes of work, study or joining family.

On 8 January, 2019 the Immigration Health Surcharge was doubled from £200 to £400 per year for many UK visa categories, including the Tier 2 visa, Tier 1 entrepreneur visa, Sole Representative visa and Tier 1 Investor visa categories.

Meanwhile, the fee was increased from £150 to £300 for international students applying for the Tier 4 visa, those applying for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa scheme and for other Tier 5 visa categories.

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