The Government must keep giving free automatic visa extensions to international health workers, to ensure they can carry on working during a second wave of Covid-19, health unions have said.
In a joint letter to home secretary Priti Patel, unions, including the British Medical Association (BMA), said they had welcomed the Government’s free visa renewals scheme for healthcare workers between 31 March and 1 October, and demanded it now be extended further.
The letter said: ‘We are calling on you, as home secretary, to intervene to renew the visa extension as a matter of urgency, on a rolling basis for the duration of the pandemic.
‘It is clear we are now entering a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. With daily cases reaching record highs, we need to do as much as possible to retain the skills and experience of our talented overseas colleagues as we have an incredibly tough few months ahead.’
The unions added that giving healthcare workers some certainty over their immigration status for the remainder of the pandemic would be ‘the very least we can do’.
The letter, co-signed by Unison and Royal College of Nursing (RCN), added that the process for applying should be made ‘robust and streamlined’, to reassure health workers and allow them to concentrate on their work. It also called for refunds to be awarded to those who have already paid to renew their visa.
Last month, GP leaders also warned that a cut to reimbursement of practices’ visa sponsorship costs could lead to new GPs ‘leaving the country’.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘Our international health and care colleagues have worked tirelessly and selflessly in recent months, 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 this dreadful virus.’
He added: ‘These efforts must absolutely not go ignored. The least we owe these committed staff is some certainty over their future in this country, while also ensuring talented staff are able to continue contributing their much-needed skills to the health and care sector through what look to be some intensely difficult months ahead.’
Sara Gorton, Unison head of health, said: ‘As infection rates rise, the NHS and social care services are going to need all the help they can get. The Government must extend the visa scheme for frontline staff. Workers who’ve come to the UK to help the NHS in its hour of need must be spared the cost of extending visas.’