NHS and social care workers have been fighting on the front line in our effort against coronavirus. Amongst them are workers from overseas who are facing the added burden of visa extension fees.
Even without the Immigration Health Surcharge, which I have long believed should be scrapped for overseas health workers, typical visa fees can cost more than £1,000 for individuals and close to £5,000 for a family of four. This means that health workers would have to pay at least £1000 to continue to put their lives in danger to fight the coronavirus pandemic in the UK.
It was therefore welcome that the Government extended the visas of some of these workers for free.
However, this excludes care workers and non-medical NHS workers – such as hospital porters, cleaners, and administrative workers. As the Home Affairs Select Committee has noted, these people are more likely to be lower paid, meaning that visa renewal costs are likely to be a much greater financial burden.
I therefore believe that the visa extension scheme should be expanded, to include all health and social care workers and other front line employees, including cleaners and porters.
New Clause 17 (NC17) of the Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill would have done this and put the visa extensions on a statutory footing. Unfortunately, when NC17 was tabled during a Public Bill Committee, which only involves a small number of MPs of which I am not one, the amendment was not moved or debated.
A similar amendment (NC35) was tabled during the Bill’s Report Stage and Third Reading, however, it was not chosen for a division.
Despite these disappointing results, I can assure you that my Opposition colleagues and I will continue to push for fee-free visa extensions for all NHS workers, including non-medical workers. This is the least that we can do to repay the debt that we owe to these workers on the frontline of the Coronavirus crisis.