LONDON: A surcharge added on to the work visas of overseas healthcare workers, including those from India, within the state-funded National Health Service, is under review as they battle against the coronavirus pandemic, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Saturday.
The Indian-origin Cabinet minister, who led the daily Downing Street briefing, was asked about this long-standing demand within the medical community, which has been lobbying against the additional financial burden on doctors and nurses already contributing directly to the NHS.
“We have a range of measures that are, like most things in government, under review, and we are looking at everything including visa surcharge,” she said.
The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), introduced in April 2015, is imposed on anyone in the UK on a work, study or family visa for longer than six months in order to raise additional funds for the NHS. Earlier this year, it was further hiked from 400 pounds to 624 pounds per year.
The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) are among the bodies lobbying against what has been branded as an “unfair and discriminatory” charge on overseas medics who pay their tax dues while contributing to the NHS.
Now, Patel has indicated that she is reviewing this along with her Cabinet colleague, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“That is something that obviously I am working with my colleague Matt Hancock in the Department of Health and Social Care because that is a joint policy with Matt’s team, and we are looking at everything we can do to continue to support everyone on the front line in the NHS,” she said.
The minister had earlier announced a free-of-charge visa extension for the NHS medics whose visa was set to expire by October, in order for them to have the “peace of mind” as they combat the deadly virus across the country’s hospitals.
In her daily briefing on Saturday, Patel also urged the British public to continue to “stay strong” and abide by the lockdown measures in order to support the NHS in its fight against the spread of COVID-19.
She said: “We must be sure that we can continue to protect the NHS. That there is a sustained and consistent fall in the daily rates of death… we all have a role to play in pulling our country out of this crisis.
“So, I urge you all to stay strong and embrace that spirit of national unity by continuing to follow the advice: to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives.”
She also issued a warning to criminals looking to exploit the current lockdown situation, as she revealed that reported losses for coronavirus fraud now stands at 2.4 million pounds.
The minister said: “Car crime, burglary and shoplifting are all lower than in the same period from this time last year. But we also know that the most sophisticated criminals continue to exploit and capitalise on this horrendous crisis.
“So today, I have a message for them: our world-class law enforcement is also adapting, and they are onto you. And their efforts are paying off.”