With shortages in the healthcare sector amid the second wave of coronavirus, UK’s new immigration system will add further stress to the NHS.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the NHS has faced one of its toughest years to date – having dealt with mass deaths, including more than 180 NHS employees. This has also led to a decline in employment numbers as NHS workers suffer under such tremendous stress, with 30,000 off sick or in self-isolation.
Yet, despite the adversity they have faced, they are still dealing with issues including the new points-based immigration system which recently received Royal Assent and will officially commence in January 2021. This will have a massive effect on the NHS, as 13.8% of employees come from outside of the UK, including both EU and non-EU nationals.
It has come as a shock to many that the government are not automatically extending the visas of all migrant workers within the NHS, given the fact that the organisation is struggling as it is. The Home Office announced its plans to only grant twelve-month visa extensions for NHS staff and care workers; however, this only applies to 3000 employees – excluding the vast majority of hard-working healthcare workers in lower-skilled jobs.
Despite the help healthcare workers are receiving to apply, the government’s rulings and visa fees are exclusionary for many
Many argue that health professionals will easily achieve the seventy points required, as they fall under the tier two category, which applies to skilled workers. Under this category, NHS workers can apply for the Health and Care Visa. However, each applicant must be able to prove that they have a secure job or offer from the NHS before they can be approved.
The NHS have made a point of showcasing how valued their employees are by encouraging HR teams within the NHS to assist workers with visa application processes and funding. Despite the help workers are receiving to apply, the government’s rulings and visa fees are exclusionary for many. Minnie Rahman, the Public Affairs and Campaign Manager at the Joint Council for The Welfare of Immigrants discussed how frontline workers should be given free extensions on their visas, instead of paying “astronomical fees”, while working day in and day out looking after people all over the UK.
The NHS’ future has been a topic of discussion for many years, including talks of privatisation and retention drivers to halt falling staff numbers. Priti Patel’s comments on the points-based system as “a significant moment in history” seemed to shed a more positive outlook for the NHS, with plans to “attract the brightest and best from around the globe”.
With so many vacancies during the second wave of the pandemic, once again the country needs the help of those who come from overseas
The Home Secretary’s comments were, however, focused solely on the ‘highly skilled’ workers within the NHS, potentially excluding workers in administrative and clerical positions, clinical services, healthcare assistance and many more vital roles. This has forced significant organisations such as the Doctors Association UK to come forward and show solidarity with the Liberal Democrats campaign to grant Indefinite Leave to Remain Status to all frontline health and social care staff.
As the end of free movement looms nearer, discussions are clearly at a stalemate, with some thinking it would benefit the NHS to bring in a new cluster of highly-skilled workers who can aid them with Covid-19 in 2021.
While those in protest of the new rules believe this could hinder progress, as some key workers within the NHS cannot afford the visa fees. Others may also not be eligible for admittance which could result in staff numbers dropping rapidly. With so many vacancies during the second wave of the pandemic, once again the country needs the help of those who come from overseas.
[Header image: Jason Shivers, Pixabay]