Thousands more health workers from abroad whose visas are due to expire soon will be able to remain in the UK for another year free of charge.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Home Office offered free visa extensions for health professionals whose visas were due to expire between 31 March 2020 and 1 October 2020. This offer has now been extended to cover visas set to expire before 31 March 2021.
The Home Office estimates that an additional 6,000 doctors, nurses, paramedics, midwives, occupational therapists, psychologists and a range of allied health professionals will be able to remain in the UK for longer.
The scheme will cover all health professionals working in the NHS and private sector and will cover all fees and charges.
Most health workers from overseas no longer need to pay the immigration health surcharge. Eligible staff who had already paid it before the announcement was made earlier this year can now apply online for a reimbursement.
Home secretary Priti Patel said: “We recognise the huge contribution healthcare professionals from overseas are making across the UK in fighting the devastating impact of coronavirus.
“We truly value the work these heroes are doing, which is why we’re renewing our free 12-month visa extension offer.
“We estimate this will benefit a further 6,000 dedicated frontline workers and their families who deserve our support and our gratitude.”
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “I am hugely grateful for all of the frontline health and social care workers from overseas who have worked tirelessly to save lives and provide the best possible care during this global pandemic.
“This visa extension will help to benefit healthcare professionals who have shown extraordinary dedication during this challenging period to protect all of us and our families from the threat of the virus.”
Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association council, said he was pleased the government has removed this “unnecessary, bureaucratic and costly barrier” to international healthcare staff continuing to offer their services in the months ahead.
He said: “Our international colleagues have worked tirelessly and selflessly during the pandemic, providing care and support as we all faced unprecedented challenges. This often came at the expense of their own health and wellbeing, and as we know, in too many cases, we have seen staff who came from overseas to look after people in this country tragically lose their own lives to Covid-19.
“We owe this vital group of staff a huge debt of gratitude and they should never have had to worry about their immigration status as they fought this virus on the front line.”
Employers will need to confirm workers’ eligibility for the scheme, the government said.
It reminded health workers who are EU, EEA or Swiss citizens to apply for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021.
A new health and care visa has been launched for health workers who want to live and work in the UK from 1 January 2021, when the new points-based immigration system will take effect.