PRITI PATEL has announced a widening of the Home Office’s automatic visa renewal plan to cover more overseas health and care workers.
These key workers, including midwives, radiographers, social workers and pharmacists with visas due to expire before October 1, will receive an automatic one-year visa extension.
The home secretary on Wednesday (29) said that the extension will apply to those working both in the NHS as well as the independent sector, and also cover their families.
The latest move builds on her announcement last month of a similar fee-free visa extension for NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics.
“We are incredibly grateful to all overseas health and care workers fighting this invisible enemy,” said Patel.
“We have already announced the extension of visas for NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics. Now we are going further by extending this offer to hundreds of other frontline health and care workers, both in the NHS and in the independent sector.”
Patel added that all the extensions will be automatic, free and include exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for the duration of the extension.
She also confirmed that family members and dependents of healthcare workers, who passed away as a result of contracting the coronavirus, will be offered indefinite leave to remain, or permanent residency.
“We hope the number of people who find themselves in this position is very small and our thoughts go out to the families and friends of all medical professionals who have passed away fighting to keep us safe,” she said.
“We continue to monitor the situation carefully and consider our response. I can confirm that any dependents in this very sad position will be granted immediate indefinite leave to remain, without a requirement to pay a fee.”
The list of NHS roles covered under the government’s latest announcements will include nurses, midwives, pharmacists, medical radiographers, paramedics, therapy professionals, occupational therapists, podiatrists, speech and language therapists, psychologists, biological scientists and biochemists, medical practitioners, dental practitioners and social workers.
“The government recognises the huge importance of the health and social care sector, who are providing vital services following the coronavirus outbreak,” said Patel.
“We recognise that all NHS staff are contributing to this tremendous effort, and the government is continuing to consider our options carefully and provide a wide range of support to those supporting our efforts against Covid-19.”
— Priti Patel #StayHomeSaveLives (@patel4witham) April 29, 2020
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said frontline health and social care workers from overseas were doing “extraordinary work in responding to this global outbreak”.
“Around 3,000 vital health and care workers and their families will benefit from the extension, and we are hugely grateful to them for protecting the vulnerable and saving lives,” he added.
The extension comes into effect immediately for all visas expiring between March 31 and October 1, 2020.
Any NHS worker who has paid for an unresolved visa application will be offered the option of a refund.
The Home Office said it will work with the Department for Health and Social Care and NHS Trusts to put these arrangements in place.
The move follows some concerns raised by immigration lawyers and experts around the statutory backing for Patel’s announcement of NHS visa extensions earlier this month. It was feared that it would cover only some work visa categories and not others.
Patel said the Home Office was working with the NHS Trusts to determine the scope of the extensions so that they were not restricted to only a limited set of work visas.
“There is a discretionary option available under exceptional circumstances, and these are exceptional circumstances,” she said.
Last week, Patel had confirmed that the government was reviewing the health surcharge for NHS workers, in line with a long-standing demand within the medical community.