MPs criticise exclusion of NHS workers from free visa extensions

Excluding foreign care workers and lower-paid NHS staff from a fee-free NHS visa extension scheme is unfair and fails to recognise their contribution to the fight against Covid-19, an influential group of MPs has said.

In a report, the cross-party home affairs select committee said some of the lowest-paid workers in healthcare were facing charges of thousands of pounds to stay in the country, while others were not.

The committee welcomed the government’s decision to give free one-year visa extensions to NHS and social care workers in medical roles during the coronavirus outbreak. But it said the offer should be extended to cover all staff working in the sector.

“Many of the excluded NHS employees – who include hospital porters, cleaners and administrative staff – are providing essential services to the NHS and its patients at this most trying time,” the committee said.

“They are also more likely to be in lower-paid job roles, meaning that the necessity of paying visa renewal fees is a much greater financial burden.”

The latest call comes after the government last month bowed to pressure from MPs from all parties and agreed to scrap the immigration health surcharge for all NHS staff and care workers.

The chair of the committee, Yvette Cooper, said ministers should now extend the free visa extensions to cover all employees.

“Our NHS and social care system have relied on the contributions of those who have come from abroad throughout this crisis,” the Labour MP said. “Excluding the care workers who hold dying residents’ hands, the cleaners who scrub the door handles and floors of the Covid wards, or the porters who take patients to intensive care is just wrong.”

Cooper has said she is tabling an amendment with cross-party backing to the government’s immigration bill that would require ministers to change course.

The committee recommends the government suspend visa conditions that block thousands of migrants in the UK from accessing most state-funded benefits, tax credits and housing assistance.

Most migrants from outside the European Economic Area with temporary permission to remain in the UK have “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF) status, including sponsored skilled workers, family members of British citizens, self-employed people, investors, entrepreneurs and asylum seekers.

The government should immediately make arrangements for the temporary lifting of NRPF conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic, the committee said.

A government spokesperson said: “We are incredibly grateful for all the hard work that health and care workers continue to do in the fight against coronavirus.

“Right across the immigration system we are supporting NHS and other eligible health and care workers. We have introduced a free one-year visa extension to approximately 3,000 key frontline health workers including an exemption to the immigration health surcharge and have expanded the bereavement scheme to all NHS and social care workers.”

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