Leading professional associations for doctors in the UK have written to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel to reconsider a surcharge added on to the work visas of overseas healthcare workers, including those from India, within the state-funded National Health Service (NHS), terming it as deeply unfair.
In a letter issued by Doctors Association UK on Monday, Indian-origin chair Rinesh Parmar branded the surcharge as deeply unfair and the government's move to dismiss a previous statement promising a review into the issue as a gross insult to medics on the coronavirus frontlines.
At a time when we are mourning colleagues your steadfast refusal to reconsider the deeply unfair immigration health surcharge is a gross insult to all who are serving this country at its time of greatest need, notes the letter.
Not only is this a betrayal of all these hardworking people, but also represents a deterrent to attracting talented and skilled workers to the UK a stated aim of this government's immigration policy, it adds, in reference to the British government's new skills-based post-Brexit immigration strategy, which cleared its second reading in the House of Commons this week.
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. It is set for a further hike from 400 pounds to 624 pounds per year from October.
Addressing a daily Downing Street briefing last month, Indian-origin minister Patel had indicated that the issue was under review but it became clear that no policy change was planned as the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2020 was tabled in Parliament this week.
With the Home Office announcing that there was in fact no review into the surcharge, despite one that you announced on April 25, 2020, a worrying precedent has been set by the government regarding probity. During this public health emergency, honest communication and candour with the public are paramount, notes the letter, also signed by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) and the Association of Pakistani Physicians of Northern Europe.
The NHS relies on its multinational workforce. One in four doctors come from overseas to work in the NHS. Now, more than ever, the country needs their skills to see us through this pandemic, it adds.
According to a recent Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) study, Indians make up one in 10 of all foreign-born doctors in the NHS and BAPIO, which represents this group, has been lobbying against the IHS for years.
Clinicians wishing to work in the UK are already facing burdensome processes relating to regulation and immigration, and on the top this surcharge is only going to see UK losing out on quality healthcare professionals from non-EU countries, said BAPIO President Dr Ramesh Mehta.
The UK Home Office had announced a free-of-charge visa extension for 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. Doctors' associations are calling for that exemption to be made permanent as the smallest recognition of the contribution of overseas doctors to the UK's health service.
Meanwhile, the government's new points-based immigration system, set to come into force from January next year at the end of the current Brexit transition period, has also come under criticism, with the Opposition and small businesses calling for a delay in its execution to help cope with the coronavirus fallout.
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