Immigration Health Surcharge

Immigration Health Surcharge ‘Penalises’ Frontline Workers

Government Retain Controversial Immigration Health Surcharge

The government’s failure to abandon the Immigration Health Surcharge for NHS workers has received widespread condemnation from medical groups and campaigners. 

Speaking at a Coronavirus daily briefing four weeks ago, Home Secretary Priti Patel suggested that the controversial surcharge was ‘under review’ alongside a number of other measures.

With migrant NHS workers playing such a key role in the national fight against COVID-19, these comments sparked hope that they would be permanently exempted from the surcharge. However, the Home Office responded to this interpretation of the Home Secretary’s comments with the following:

“It is wrong to suggest the home secretary said there would be a formal review into this policy. All government policies are continuously kept under review.”

The government’s inactivity on this front has led to growing resentment, with a number of medical groups arguing that overseas nationals working in the health service are unjustly penalised by the charge.

Immigration Health Surcharge
Migrant NHS workers are required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge in addition to tax and national insurance. [Image: 38 Degrees]

Speaking to The Guardian, a spokesperson from the Royal College of Nursing said:

‘We have repeatedly called for the immigration health surcharge to be waived for nursing staff.

They are already contributing through taxes and national insurance – to ask them to pay twice is simply wrong.

This charge must be stopped. Following her announcement that the charge was being reviewed, we wrote to the home secretary urging action. We await a response and commitment to act on this.’

The government’s inactivity on this front has led to growing resentment, with a number of medical groups arguing that overseas nationals working in the health service are unjustly penalised by the charge.

As the government has come increasingly under fire, the idea that health workers should not have to pay for a service that relies on them to function has become a recurring theme. 

This point has been made by Dr Chandra Kanneganti, the national chair of the British International Doctors’ Association:

 “We know BAME doctors are disproportionately getting ill. To have to pay for the same service that they are putting their lives at risk for doesn’t seem fair. This charge needs to be scrapped completely for NHS overseas workers.”

As the government has come increasingly under fire, the idea that health workers should not have to pay for a service that relies on them to function has become a recurring theme.

At the end of March, the government issued a free one-year visa extension to all migrant NHS workers whose leave was due to expire. With the surcharge waived as well as the visa fees, the move fuelled demands for it to be dropped completely. 

Yet with the Conservatives’ Immigration Bill passing its second reading in parliament yesterday, the Immigration Health Surcharge is set not only to stay, but to increase. 

Priti Patel Coronavirus
Home Secretary Priti Patel stated that the surcharge was ‘under review’ at a Coronavirus daily briefing. [Image: RCNi]

Introduced in 2015 as a means of combatting ‘health tourism’, the surcharge forms part of the wider ‘Hostile Environment’ policy. The charge currently stands at £400 per year, but will rise to £624 per year this October. This will prove crippling, as many overseas nationals already struggle to pay the existing visa costs. 

Not only this, but the price increase will act as a deterrent, making it too expensive for much-needed medical staff to relocate to the UK. 

The government has responded to criticism by stating that the Immigration Health Surcharge has generated £900m for the NHS between 2015 and 2018-19. 

However, the decision to retain the policy does appear at odds with the government’s frequent declarations of gratitude for the contributions made by migrant workers, and the decision to waive the surcharge as part of the visa extension issued to NHS staff. 

A Home Office spokesperson had this to say:


“As the home secretary said, in light of the exceptional circumstances that coronavirus presents, it is right that policies are kept under review.

This includes how the immigration health surcharge applies. For example, the Home Office has already announced free automatic visa extensions for overseas frontline NHS workers who are working to beat the virus, including an exemption from the immigration health surcharge.”

Written by
Cameron Boyle
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