A new Health and Care Visa promising eligible healthcare workers fast-tracked entry to live and work in the UK has been launched.
Open to applications from a date to be confirmed in August, the Health and Care Visa will come with a reduced visa application fee compared to that paid by other skilled workers, exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge used to subsidise the NHS, and a decision on whether applicants can work in the UK within just three weeks.
“We are indebted to overseas health and care professionals for their tremendous contributions, not just in saving thousands of lives throughout this crisis, but for the vital role they play year-round,” said home secretary Priti Patel.
“This new visa is part of our new immigration system making it quicker, cheaper and easier for the best and brightest health and care professionals from around the globe to work in our brilliant NHS.”
In May the Prime Minister announced that health and social care workers will be permanently exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge and any of surcharge payments made by healthcare professionals on Tier 2 visas since 31 March 2020 would be refunded.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it was working with the health sector to set up operational arrangements for reimbursing health and social care staff outside the scope of the Health and Care Visa. These arrangements will commence from 1 October in six-month reimbursements.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “The unwavering commitment, skill and compassion staff have shown during the fight against this deadly virus is nothing short of phenomenal, and the reimbursement of the Immigration Health Surcharge recognises the enormous contribution of those who have come to the UK to work in health and social care.
“I’m incredibly proud of our health and care workforce and look forward to welcoming new professionals from across the globe to continue the fantastic work to ensure our health system remains the best in the world.”
The announcement came after the government revealed further details about the points-based immigration system it plans to introduce from 1 January 2021.
The 130-page document published on Monday said that some social care roles would not qualify under the new visa system for health and care workers – and this latest government announcement reiterates that.
Among the professions that qualify for the Health and Care Visa are nurses, midwives, social workers, paramedics, pharmacists, medical practitioners, physiotherapists, radiographers, among several others.
The government said the Migration Advisory Committee had been “very clear that immigration is not the answer to the challenges in the social care sector” and said it wanted care sector employers to “focus on investing in [the] domestic workforce”.
The Covid-19 crisis has shone a light on the vital work that our international colleagues do, including those working in social care, and tragically, the price that some workers have paid,” – Dr Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association
However, the Department of Health and Social Care said it was working with the social care sector to improve training opportunities and to introduce a “proper” career structure to make it a more attractive profession.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association council, noted that a large proportion of care workers will have to continue paying the Immigration Health Surcharge upfront as they fall outside the scope of those eligible for the new visa route.
“The BMA believes that all health and social care workers provide invaluable services in an incredibly overstretched system, and therefore this policy should apply to all equally,” he said.
“The Covid-19 crisis has shone a light on the vital work that our international colleagues do, including those working in social care, and tragically, the price that some workers have paid, becoming unwell with the virus and sadly in some cases dying. It’s high time that their dedication, compassion and skills are recognised.”
Jackie Penlington, a lawyer at Stevens & Bolton, expressed concern that many health and care staff would not qualify for the new immigration route.
“The new Health and Care visa is to be welcomed – though how much use it will be to the social care sector in practice is of doubt, as most social care workers will not qualify for the route due to the low wages in the sector,” she said.
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