MPs claim it is “unfair” that foreign-born carers, hospital cleaners and NHS admin workers will have to pay thousands of pounds for a visa extension, while their higher earning colleagues have been spared the charge.
A cross-party parliamentary committee is calling for the 12-month reprieve for migrant doctors and nurses to be rolled out to all relevant NHS staff, as well as social workers.
Home Secretary Priti Patel announced in March that the visa extension charge would be waived for migrant doctors, nurses, and paramedics so they would not be “distracted by the visa process” as they helped the UK fight Covid-19.
The decision to suspend the fees – which could run to almost £13,000 for a family of four – was welcomed by the Home Affairs Select Committee in a report published on Monday.
Yet the exclusion of often lower paid roles from the scheme was criticised.
The report said: “We are extremely disappointed that the Government has so far decided not to extend the offer to non-medical NHS employees and social care workers.
“These lower paid workers have now rightly been included in the life assurance scheme, the provisions for bereaved families, and the exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge.
“Excluding care workers and lower-paid NHS staff from the fee-free visa extension, however, is unfair and fails to recognise the scale of their contribution to the UK fight against Covid-19.
“We recommend that all NHS staff—regardless of job role, pay grade or visa route—and social care workers are offered the same fee-free one-year visa extension.
“It cannot be right that, at a time when they are providing a vital and lifesaving service for the country, non-UK health and care staff have to worry about their status and residency in the country.”
In an email to the committee on April 29, Patel argued that rolling out the visa extension plan to include care workers was difficult because of the “disparate nature” of the sector.
She told the committee later that day: “Trying to get information from [independent providers], at a really difficult time, is very challenging right now”.
The MPs rejected this excuse, saying in their report: “We do not accept the Home Office claim that including social care workers in the free visa extensions policy is too difficult because many work for independent providers.
“The Government has rightly found ways to include care workers in the life assurance scheme, the provisions for those who die in service, and the exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge.
“It must now address the remaining anomaly and include them in the free visa extension.”