THE UK has announced a new exemption and reimbursement scheme for the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) paid in by foreign healthcare professionals, which British Indian doctors had branded as “unfair”.
Set to rise from £400 to £624 this month, the surcharge aimed at raising funds for the NHS is imposed on anyone in the UK on a work, study or family visa for longer than six months.
However, on Thursday (1), the government said “tens of thousands of international health and care staff who have worked tirelessly to save lives during the pandemic are exempt” from the IHS.
“I am incredibly proud of all the fantastic health and care workers from all over the world we have working in our NHS who provide such an invaluable service, from cleaners to care workers to porters,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“We can now deliver on our promise as the reimbursement scheme will benefit those who have given so much this year to protect us all from Covid-19.
“This will encourage overseas health and care workers to continue to come and work in the UK and help those already living here to provide first-class care and support for patients.”
In May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had announced in Parliament that doctors and healthcare workers already contributing on the NHS frontlines will be exempt from the surcharge.
The new Health and Care Visa, which was launched in August, has the exemption to the surcharge already built in, with the IHS Reimbursement Scheme working alongside to compensate others.
The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), which had been campaigning against the surcharge for several years, welcomed the “common sense” announcement.
“The government has finally seen what is right and sensible,” said BAPIO President Dr Ramesh Mehta.
“This is really good news, not only for the Indian doctors and nurses who contribute so much to the NHS but also for the government keen to attract future talent that will help address the severe staff shortages faced by the health service.
“Unless the government shows such friendly overtures and sensible immigration policies, the UK stands to lose out on Indian professionals who get drawn to other countries such as Australia and Canada.”
The IHS was brought in to allow foreign workers to access the NHS on broadly the same basis as UK nationals and residents. But, with the surcharge applicable on each member of a family, the overall cost was viewed as a unfair burden on overseas healthcare workers who were already making a direct contributions to the NHS and National Insurance.
Rebecca Smith, managing director of NHS Employers, said the government’s move to exempt health and social care workers from the surcharge and reimburse those who already paid it after March 31 this year “demonstrated some recognition of the incredible contribution overseas staff make to the NHS”.
“Now more than ever, we must show our gratitude for all our staff, including those from overseas, who have worked with dedication, fortitude and selflessness to care for our communities in one of the most challenging periods in our history,” she added.
Under the new scheme, people who have worked in the health and social care sector continuously for at least six months and paid the surcharge will be eligible for a reimbursement. It will be processed by the NHS Business Services Authority and UK Visa and Immigration, and paid out in six-month instalments.
The health department said the reimbursement scheme was designed for claimants who were in the UK on visas that gave them a generic right to work.
It noted that Health and Care Visa was designed to help deliver 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more doctors in general practice, as well as thousands more physiotherapists, pharmacists and other highly-skilled practitioners over the next five years.