Health charges rise racist, says doctors’ group
Doctors in Unite, which represents junior doctors, GPs and hospital consultants, said it was “appalled” at the move, as it would see migrants pay double to use the NHS
BRITAIN’S oldest medical union last Saturday (15) criticised government plans to increase the amount migrant workers pay to use the NHS, in order to cover public-sector wage increases.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak last week approved recommendations to boost wages of teachers, doctors and police by between five and seven per cent. He ruled out tax increases or government borrowing to fund the rise, but instead said hikes in the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) and visa fees would raise £1 billion.
Doctors in Unite, which represents junior doctors, GPs and hospital consultants, said it was “appalled” at the move, as it would see migrants pay double to use the NHS.
Most UK employees have national insurance (NI) contributions deducted at source on their salaries, which pays for the NHS, as well as state pension and unemployment schemes.
“Just like other workers, migrants contribute to NHS funding through general taxation. Doubling the NHS surcharge to over £1,200 per year is an unjust additional penalty,” Doctors in Unite said.
“Migrants are effectively ‘taxed twice’ to access the same service,” it added, calling the move “immoral and divisive”.
The IHS, initially brought in to prevent “medical tourism”, is now paid by most migrants under tighter post-Brexit entry rules. It is paid per person in addition to visa fees for stays of more than six months.
It costs over-18s £624 per year, while students and under-18s pay £470 annually. The government has proposed raising the IHS for adults to £1,035, and £776 at the reduced rate.
Work and visit visas will go up by 15 per cent, while the cost of student and leave-to-remain visas among others will rise by at least 20 per cent.
Further details of which categories of visas will face hikes and when the new higher rates come into force are expected to be laid out by the Home Office in the coming months.
Unison, which represents 1.3 million public service workers, warned the increases would “push more people into poverty”, while the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants accused the government of a “blatant attempt to pit worker against worker and divide our communities”.
Maja Davidovic, a lecturer in international relations from Serbia who works at Cardiff University, told the Guardian the changes bought in were “borderline racist”.
“It’s really harmful socially for our society – which already has xenophobia and hostility towards migrants – to do this. It sounds like one small policy, but it’s deeply embedded in the divisive and borderline racist politics of the current government. This is not separate from small boats,” she said.
Net migration in the UK hit a record 606,000 in 2022, according to official figures released in May.
In his announcement about public sector pay, Sunak warned his offer was “final”.
“There will be no more talks on pay. We will not negotiate again on this year’s settlements and no amount of strikes will change our decision. Instead, the settlement we’ve reached gives us a fair way to end the strikes,” he said as junior doctors in England began another five-day strike last Thursday (13) after their demands for a 35 per cent pay hike were rejected.
Critics warn the IHS increases – paid for by individuals or their companies – could worsen under-staffing in many sectors, and prompt high-skilled workers and students to go elsewhere.
The migrant and refugee charity Praxis accused ministers of treating people born outside the UK as “cash cows”, at a time when they were struggling to repay already high visa renewal fees.
Genomics research centre The Wellcome Sanger Institute said it spent more than £300,000 in immigration fees for its employees in 2022.
“These proposed increases create further barriers for global talent… and will have a detrimental effect on UK and global science,” said the head of policy, Sarion Bowers.