Doctors and NHS staff with non–permanent visas are despairing over the stalling of the ‘right to remain’ bill, with many having contracted Covid-19 while caring for NHS patients sick with the virus. They are devastated that a parliamentary bill that would have given them the right to remain in the UK has been postponed.
The healthcare workers say they were holding out hope that the second reading of the private members bill, which had been scheduled for 15th January, but has been cancelled, could give them immigration security if passed.
The immigration (health and social care staff) bill 2019-2021 calls for migrant healthcare workers to be granted indefinite leave to remain. It is similar to the citizenship being granted in France to frontline migrant workers.
Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat MP, who sponsored the bill, has called on the government to consider debating bills such as this one remotely, private members’ bills were cancelled for several months due to the pandemic.
“I make no bones about the fact that I would like the government to recognise the contribution made by the NHS workers – the foreign nationals- who have done so much for this country in this crisis”.
The Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Nursing, Doctors Association UK, Independent Age and Unison are all backing the bill along with organisations supporting migrants such as the Joint Council for Welfare of Immigrants, MPs have received 7,400 letters in support of the bill.
A senior house officer in general surgery at Walsall Manor hospital, Dr Femi Osunlusi, said that migrant healthcare workers were shattered by the cancellation of a bill they hoped would provide them with a lifeline.
Osunlusi contracted Covid-19 over Christmas, as did his wife, who is a physiotherapist. Both are now back at work. “If I didn’t go back to work, there would be gaps in the rota”. He added that many migrant healthcare professionals were putting their lives on the line caring for Covid patients but faced immigration insecurity, having to apply every year for five years to renew their work visas.
“If my employer chooses to stop my certificate of sponsorship, I can be deported at any time, despite the contributions I have made to this country”, he added.
Another doctor, Hassan Malik, currently off sick with Covid, said: “Migrant NHS workers have made an unquantifiable contribution to the treatment of the UK population during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite risking their lives during this crisis, these NHS workers on non-permanent visas have had to work knowing they and their families could be deported if they are struck by Covid.
“The uncertainty of our immigration status hangs over us like the sword of Damocles. Without the assistance of these hardworking foreign nationals, our NHS would be in dire straits. I was working on a Covid ward and managed to avoid getting the virus then. But the new strain is much more transmissible, and I caught it”.
There are 84,316 non-EEA internationally educated nurses working in health and care across the UK.
The Royal College of Physicians’ annual 2018-19 census of consultant and higher speciality trainee physicians revealed that 43% of advertised consultant posts with an advisory appointments committee went unfilled due to a lack of suitable applicants. There are about 112,000 vacancies in adult social care in England on any given day.
Kevin Foster, the immigration minister, said: “We are hugely grateful for the vital contributions all NHS staff have made during the pandemic, which is why we have introduced a range of unprecedented measures to ensure the health and care sector are supported fully”.
“Last year, we launched the health and care visa for eligible professionals and their families, which provides fast-track entry, reduced fees and dedicated support. This includes exempting health and care workers from payment of the immigration health surcharge, and extending the visas of more than 6,000 frontline health workers and their dependants for free”.