We Are Not All In This Together

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
2 August 2020

Measures taken to combat the spread of coronavirus have changed almost every aspect of society, both here in the UK and around the world. The immigration system is no exception. Over the past few months, doctors, nurses and care workers for the NHS have gained a new found level of respect from the nation. Immigrants, who are disproportionately represented among Britain’s carers, have been labelled “key workers” as we have witnessed them working to protect the most vulnerable in society.

The Immigration Health Surcharge

The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), as per the Immigration (Health Charge) (Amendment) Order 2018, is a fee levied on the majority of UK visa applications. The IHS is on top of other Home Office immigration fees. Also known as the NHS surcharge, the fee adds £400 per year per person to the cost of a UK visa, or £300 a year for UK student visas and Youth Mobility Scheme visas. It was introduced to ensure temporary work migrants make a fair contribution to the range of NHS services available to them. Having paid the surcharge, migrants have access to the NHS on roughly the same basis as UK residents. The UK Government plans to unveil a new immigration system from 1 January 2021, that will require all EU and non-EU nationals to enter the UK on an appropriate immigration route and to pay the NHS surcharge. This change will mark the end of the Brexit Transition Period and the end of Free Movement between the UK and EU Member States.

Competing Interests

Income from the Immigration Health Surcharge goes directly into the NHS. It has raised approximately £900 million for the NHS since its introduction, to the end of the 18/19 financial year. The additional income the NHS Surcharge generates, arguably provides an important contribution to sustaining our NHS, including recruiting 50,000 nurses and delivering 50 million more GP appointments.

On 31 March 2020 the Government announced that NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics, whose UK work visas are due to expire before 1st October 2020, will have their leave to remain extended for one year. Following the expansion, an automatic one-year visa extension is available to frontline health and social care workers working both for the NHS and in the independent sector whose visas expire between 31st March 2020 and 30th September 2020. Extensions are being issued automatically, and individuals will be exempt from having to pay the Government application fee and NHS surcharge.

“Clap for them then charge them”

Whilst the extensions and temporary exemption from the NHS surcharge are a welcomed move, in order to prevent individuals from being unduly affected by circumstances beyond their control, the Government does not intend to permanently scrap the NHS surcharge, and it is set to increase further this October, to £624. From a social justice perspective, something doesn’t feel right about requiring individuals to pay for the very system that they are keeping afloat, simply because they are immigrants. Whilst there are exemptions to allow some individuals to forego the NHS surcharge, the majority of non-EU nationals who enter the UK (including those who work within the NHS and as care workers) will be obliged to pay the surcharge, on top of taxes, national insurance and immigration fees.

“All in this together”

Running simultaneously alongside the new sense of community created by the pandemic, lies Johnson’s promise to “take back control” of Britain’s borders. In the near future, many will not be able to come to the UK to work in the care sector. This is because they are defined as low-skilled and do not meet the minimum salary threshold requirement of £25,600 as set out in the government’s new immigration bill. The country’s most crucial sectors, from the NHS and home care, to farming and food processing, depend on exactly the kind of workers Johnson hopes to prevent from entering the UK post Brexit. We remain hopeful that the new born feeling that we are “all in this together” is more than just an empty slogan, and will increase awareness that for too long migrant workers have been reduced to commodities.