Trade unions and charities have warned that migrant healthcare workers are having to return to their countries of origin after the expiry of their visas. This has great potential of hampering the NHS support for the second wave of Coronavirus.
Unison has asked that the government stop forcing out keyworkers in the health and care sectors and to stop barring new ones from coming to work here.
Together with key workers who have been forced to return to their home countries many who are still in the UK are struggling to renew their visas due to delays and the prohibitive costs and have therefore become ‘overstayers’ as a result, something which can effect their ability to renew their visas.
Unison also says the policy is having a serious impact during the second wave of the pandemic when there are approximately 122,000 vacancies in the health and care sectors in England.
Doctors Association UK has stressed the importance of indefinite leave to remain for migrant healthcare workers and raised concerns about visa processing delays.
A recent Commons Library briefing states: “Over 67,000 NHS staff in England are EU nationals – 5.5% of all staff. Overall 13.8% of NHS staff say that their nationality is not British.
The Home Office announced earlier this year that NHS and care workers whose visas were due to expire in the next few months would have them extended for a year free of charge so they could ‘focus on fighting Coronavirus’. This concession, however, only applied to about 3,000 workers and left out thousands of care workers and NHS staff including low paid healthcare assistants, hospital cleaners and porters.
An example of these confusing regulations relates to a senior nursing assistant from India who is highly qualified with diplomas in health, social care, and public health, and more than a decade of experience in healthcare. He came to the UK in 2019 on a spouse visa but his work permit ran out in October this year. He was not able to renew it because his role was not on the Home Office’s shortage occupation list, he therefore returned to India with his wife. He went on to say that he felt a lot of pride in helping to care for Covid patients at St Bartholomew’s hospital in London. It was difficult work both physically and mentally and he had to live in NHS accommodation away from his wife and young daughter in order to protect them. He believes the NHS need more nursing staff not less, to look after people with Covid, and that with more staff more lives would be saved.
Christina McAnea, Union assistant general secretary said: “Treating overseas health and care workers this way is shameful. These staff are on the frontline caring for the most vulnerable in society. Shutting them out of the visa extension scheme is a shortsighted and dangerous move. With 122,000 vacancies across the sector, ministers shouldn’t be driving key workers out and barring new ones from coming here”.
Public affairs and campaigns manager at Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Minnie Rahman said: “People who’ve been risking their lives to keep us safe shouldn’t have to jump through endless hoops and pay astronomical fees just to keep living and working here. Limited visa extensions made earlier this year caused devastating confusion and did not protect key workers from the stress of the immigration system. The government must now take fair and practical action and grant free visa extensions and the right to stay to all key workers”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Overseas health and care workers provide extraordinary contributions right across our NHS caring for those in need and they have saved countless lives throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. We want to ensure the best health professionals from around the world continue to come to work in our outstanding NHS and wider health and care sector, which is why they can apply for the health and care visa at a lower cost to other routes”.