It seemed to come as a surprise to Boris Johnson that NHS workers and their families were also subject to paying the NHS surcharges, which are due to increase from £400 per year to £624 in October of this year. A spokesperson in May said that the Prime Minister had asked the Home Office to remove the IHS surcharge requirements for Health and Care workers and their families, but has any progress been made on this promise?
What are IHS payments?
The Immigration Health Surcharge is an additional fee paid by migrants, which goes directly to the NHS, to cover healthcare costs and allow migrants to access the NHS on a similar level to British Citizens.
What the Government promised:
The public mood at the time, epitomised by the ‘Clap for carers’ was overwhelmingly supportive of healthcare workers, and the Government were keen to be seen to be supportive of them too. In an extraordinary U-turn, on the 21st of May Boris Johnson said that the IHS fees were going to be scrapped for healthcare workers. In July 2020 the Government launched the Health and Care Tier 2 Visa and said that IHS payments would be refunded to those who had already paid.
The Government’s announcement in July made it appear that all healthcare workers, for example, nurses, doctors, and carers, and their families, could expect a refund or to not have to pay in the future.
For example, a nurse who is already living and working in the country and has been granted visas for his wife and two children would have paid £1,200 for the Immigration Health Surcharge at the last application. Under the Government’s proposed scrapping and refunding, he would now expect that money to be refunded.
What was delivered – the reality, a bit of a shortfall:
Unfortunately, the reality of the situation seems to be a little more complex and specific than the Government’s announcement made it sound. The workers who are now eligible to be exempt from the surcharge seem to be a very specific group, and it only applies to those here on a work permit. The Government have specified that workers eligible for the new Health and Care visa (Tier 2 General) and their dependents do not have to pay the IHS. They describe as eligible those who:
- are a qualified doctor, nurse or other health professionals (or their dependant)
- are sponsored by the NHS, an organisation providing medical services to the NHS or an organisation providing adult social care.
This does mean that anyone not employed by the NHS, providing medical services to the NHS or an organisation providing adult social care would not be exempt. So much for “Clap for Carers”!
The Government have also stated that if you’re a health or care worker who would qualify for this visa but paid the IHS on or after the 31st of March 2020 you will get a refund.
This obviously excludes those who would be eligible but had already applied for their visa before the 31st of March 2020, which will exclude a large proportion of doctors and nurses who don’t need to extend their visas yet or are not working for the NHS under a work permit.
Now that the summer media highlight on NHS workers and carers seems to have died down, UK Doctors Association has conducted a sample poll on 158 members, showing that only about 5% were receiving a refund.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the majority of NHS workers and their families who are currently applying for a visa will still need to pay the IHS surcharge. As only those here on a work permit (Tier 2) and Dependant family Tier 2 are exempted from paying.
Missed Opportunity or Political Gesture?
It seems that further clarification and action from the Government is necessary if this is not to be seen as another publicity stunt, with little actual merit on the ground.
It is notable the NHS staff are already contributing to the NHS, through paying taxes as well as by working for them, and have during this epidemic been putting their lives on the line, with a disproportionate number of a health care worker, especially B.A.M.E, losing their lives due to repeated exposure.
If this latest promise turns out to only apply to very few of them, they will understandably feel they have been stabbed in the back. Whereas the Government has been very keen to show their public appreciation for the many overseas Healthcare workers who have contributed so much throughout the pandemic, it seems they need to go further in altering their immigration policies to deliver on their promises.
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