A cross-party group of more than 60 MPs has called on the government to honour foreign nationals working in the NHS by giving them ‘leave to remain’ status.
Home secretary Priti Patel has been urged by the MPs to say “those who have put their lives at risk for our country are welcome to live in it”, in recognition of their roles in fighting the coronavirus outbreak.
The MPs – led by shadow justice secretary David Lammy and Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine – want the indefinite ‘leave to remain’ status to be extended to the families of foreign nationals.
‘We owe them all an enormous debt’
“Many of those who are risking life and limb on the front line in our NHS are foreign nationals,” said Tim Farron, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and member of the cross party group of MPs.
“We owe them all an enormous debt for the work they are doing day in day out to save lives. All foreign national NHS workers fighting for our lives during the Covid-19 pandemic are heroes. They should be awarded indefinite leave to remain.
“If you are putting your life on the line for our country, then you should be allowed to live here – it’s as simple as that.”
‘Giving them the peace of mind’
Patel announced a free-of-charge one-year visa extension for “around 2,800 migrant doctors, nurses and paramedics, employed by the NHS whose visa is due to expire before 1 October”.
The Home Office statement, released last week, said: “The extension will also apply to their family members, demonstrating how valued overseas NHS staff are to the UK.
“By giving them the peace of mind that they do not need to apply for a visa extension, this will allow those at the frontline – working around the clock in hospitals to treat the most seriously ill – to focus fully on combating coronavirus and saving lives.”
‘The people on the frontline of this crisis – are foreign nationals’
However, the cross-party group of MPs – which includes one Conservative MP, Daniel Poulter – said the visa extension does not go far enough and that all foreign nationals working for the NHS should be given indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
“Thousands of the doctors, nurses and support staff who work in our NHS – the people on the frontline of this crisis – are foreign nationals,” said Jardine.
“Our beloved NHS could not function and lives would be lost at this difficult time without their contribution.”
Care Workers’ Charity chief executive Karolina Gerlich called on Patel to extend the scheme to include care workers, and said it was “unacceptable to make those visa extensions for the NHS and not acknowledge that social care is fighting the virus on the front line”.
Jardine – the MP for Edinburgh West and former journalist, broadcaster and university lecturer – said the government “has a chance to show its own support for the people’s heroes by extending the right to remain to all the foreign national NHS workers fighting for our lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Echoing Farron’s comments about “being allowed to live in a country you risk your life for”, Jardine said the call for indefinite leave to remain status, “is not a gesture – it is our moral responsibility.”
Immigration fees can cost thousands of pounds every year
Indefinite leave to remain would save NHS foreign workers potentially thousands of pounds every year in visa and health surcharge fees – as well as the time and stress to complete the paperwork involved in applying for extensions.
All foreign workers currently pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) which chancellor Rishi Sunak increased from £400 per year to £624 in his March budget.
The Independent recently reported the case of a 27-year-old Jamaican care worker who has been in the UK for 20 years and is “saving to apply for an extension of her leave to remain next month, which will cost her £2,100”.