Coronavirus: Overseas NHS and social care staff 'should be given indefinite leave to remain'

13 May 2020, 11:17

File photo: Medical staff outside the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, join in the applause during Thursday's nationwide Clap for Carers
File photo: Medical staff outside the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, join in the applause during Thursday's nationwide Clap for Carers. Picture: PA

By Megan White

International frontline healthcare and social care staff who helped tackle coronavirus should be given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has said.

The college is calling for a "new deal" for overseas health and social care workers and their families, including exempting them from the international health surcharge to use the NHS, which costs £400 per person.

The proposed NHS visa, which the Government says will make it easier for doctors and nurses from around the world to work in the UK, should also be extended to social care staff, the RCP said.

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More than 160 frontline NHS and care workers have died during the pandemic.

Through tributes from local NHS trusts and loved ones, it has been confirmed that 163 health and social care workers have died after contracting Covid-19 since March 11.

It carried out a poll of 1,679 people and found 67 per cent thought it was unlikely that the NHS would have been able to tackle coronavirus without international staff.

Six in 10 people also thought overseas staff who have worked in the NHS during the pandemic should have the right to permanently stay in the UK.

The same number thought international NHS and social care staff should not have to pay an annual charge to use the health service.

Meanwhile, 69 per cent said the Government should publicly acknowledge their contributions.

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the RCP, said: "There is no doubt in my mind that our NHS would not be able to cope, even in 'normal' times, without the contribution of our international colleagues.

"Their work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has been crucial to saving lives, and our polling results today clearly show that the public share our eagerness to reward them for their commitment and dedication.

"The Government has an opportunity to reset the narrative and make the NHS a truly welcoming place to work for everyone.

"I hope they seize it."

It was announced last month that free visa extensions would be granted to overseas healthcare workers who were helping to fight Covid-19.

Migrant doctors, nurses, midwives, social workers, pharmacists and other frontline health workers will be granted year-long extensions to allow them to stay in the UK.

The scheme was launched to allow people in vital roles to remain in the country and extended by the Home Office to include more people in a greater number of positions.

Any healthcare worker in question whose visa was set to expire before 1 October will now have it automatically renewed for a year at no cost to that individual.

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It is expected the measure will affect roughly 3,000 staff, plus their families.

All those who qualify will also be exempt from immigration health surcharges during the extension.

Additionally, family members and dependants of healthcare workers who die after contracting coronavirus will be offered immediate indefinite leave to remain.