Overseas health workers have been awarded a free 12-month visa extension by the Home Office.
The extension has been offered to considerable numbers of health workers, including those who have been working on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligibility applies to health workers whose visas are due for expiration before October 2021.
Given that UK Visa fees are among the highest in the world, the extension has been positively received by many. However, campaigns and charities have highlighted that desperately-needed social care workers are ineligible for the extension.
Doctors, nurses, paramedics and midwives are all professions that are included in the extension, with approximately 14,000 health professionals expected to benefit overall. But with care workers once again excluded, Unison has argued that the extension should be widened to include those working in the sector.
Free automatic visa extensions were initially granted to health workers in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to tighten its grip on the UK. However, the extension was limited to doctors, paramedics and nurses whose leave to remain was due for expiration between 31 March 2020 and 1 October 2020. The extension was subsequently expanded to encompass more professions.
Over 10,000 will benefit
According to the Home Office, 10,000 health workers were granted a free visa extension in 2020. However, the government department states that the latest extension could benefit around 14,000 staff.
Under current rules, the cost of applying for a Health and Care Visa that is valid for three years stands at £232 per person. For those that are valid for five years, the cost stands at £464 per person. The Health and Care Visa must be extended after five years, or if the holder switches jobs.
If the applicant is from one of the eligible European countries, applying for the visa costs £55 less. The visa is free from all additional fees and charges, including the controversial Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS).
Home Secretary Priti Patel had this to say:
“The dedication and skill of overseas health and care workers who are leading the UK’s fight against coronavirus is truly extraordinary. They are now helping with the COVID vaccine rollout and the visa extension shows how much our country values the contributions of these heroes.”
Care workers excluded
Although the announcement was largely well-received, campaigners have urged the Home Office to include care workers within the extension.
Christina McAnea, General Secretary of Unison, said:
“Thousands of NHS workers will be relieved by this news. Many have been under huge strain and pushed themselves to the limit to look after us all. It’s only right the government looks after them and makes their lives a little easier by granting free visas.”
But McAnea also criticised care workers’ exclusion from the extension, and argued that the Home Office is overlooking those in the care sector. She said: “The scheme should be extended to all employees in health and care, particularly the lowest paid who need the most help.”
Health workers who are eligible for the extension are required to complete an online form to confirm their identity. Employers will also be requested to confirm an employee’s eligibility.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said:
“Our overseas health and care workers make such a vital contribution to our health system and have been a key part of fight against the pandemic. They are protecting our loved ones and vaccinating the public so that we can save lives and return to normality.
To help those staff from overseas, we are extending their visas to provide security while they continue to tackle this virus.”
Health and Care Visa
The Health and Care Visa was launched in the August of 2020 with the intention of making it easier and cheaper for overseas health workers to take up employment in the NHS, the social care sector and organisations commissioned by the NHS to provide services.
On 29 January 2021, the list of occupations encompassed by the visa was expanded. According to Home Office figures, around 20,000 people have been granted a Health and Care Visa.
In 2020, the Home Office widened its Bereavement Scheme to include NHS and social care workers, and continues to urge all healthcare workers from the EEA and their family members to secure their long-term future in the UK via the EU Settlement Scheme.
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