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Grant Indefinite Leave to Remain to Migrant NHS Workers

As COVID-19  has raged on, support for a private member's bill to grant migrant NHS workers indefinite leave to remain has grown. Many hoped that in the recent budget announcements that migrant healthcare workers would be given some good news, but to no avail. Throughout the pandemic, it has been evident that migrant key workers have kept this country afloat; many have put their lives on the line every single day fighting against a deadly virus in the NHS. This is nothing new. Migrant workers have been essential to the operations of the NHS ever since its inception in 1948. And yet, they still face the injustice of immigration insecurity.

There are currently 170,000 overseas NHS workers from 200 countries residing within the UK, many of whom have to apply every year to renew their work visas. Some are required to have employers provide certificates of sponsorship for them, and if they do not, then they can be deported at any time despite their critical role as a part of our communities.

Pre-pandemic in 2019, Boris Johnson announced a new "NHS visa" which would make it significantly easier for doctors and nurses from around the world to work in the UK. This was due to fears that the NHS would not attract sufficient staff after Brexit - showcasing how important migrant workers are to our health service. In April 2020, Priti Patel announced that the Immigration Health Surcharge was under review; essentially, migrant NHS workers are taxed twice to use the health service themselves.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, the UK government decided to abolish such fees as a gesture of appreciation for the service NHS workers were providing. Although positive, due to differing immigration statuses, this impacted only 12% of migrant workers. This means that although the gesture exists, it did not alleviate any widespread issues for migrant workers like it first appeared to.

During the first wave of the pandemic, the government extended visas for another year with no fee to all non-EU migrant workers in the health sector whose work visas were due to expire. However, the extension is due to end this month, burdening many migrant doctors, nurses and paramedics to navigate through the bureaucracy and spending hundreds of pounds to renew their visas to be able to remain in this country and continue fighting COVID-19 in our NHS. This is an extreme insult to the workers who have carried the country through the pandemic.

Instead of the clapping and empty word, the Private Member’s Bill for Health and Social Care Staff Bill would give the migrant works the long overdue respect and recognition they truly deserve. The Bill is supported by the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Nursing, the Doctors Association UK, Independent Age and Unison, and MPs are thought to have received upwards of 7400 letters of advocacy for the Bill.  This is similar to the actions taken in countries such as France, which is granting full citizenship to frontline migrant workers.

The Bill has would be a vital lifeline for many NHS workers and their families. Some workers have reported fears of catching COVID and stopping working as they could face a serious risk of being deported. No worker who is risking their lives to save the lives of others should be punished for contracting a deadly virus. However, the second reading of the Bill has since been delayed. The Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine, who sponsored the Bill, has since called on the government to consider debating the Bill remotely due to the urgency of its nature.

The treatment of migrant NHS workers is just one of many examples of how this government has designed an immigration system to be hostile and punish those who have to manoeuvre through it. The government has constructed a system in which migrants have to prove themselves to be granted citizenship and are separated into good vs bad immigrants. Right now, indefinite leave to remain is only even considered to those making the ultimate sacrifice of putting their lives at risk for others. No one should have to put their lives at risk to earn such a status.

The government talks of the debt that must be paid. This government can start paying their dues by passing this Bill to ensure that migrant healthcare workers are given what they have always deserved; security and appreciation.

Aaron Gates-Lincoln writes for immigrationnews.co.uk. This is a media platform that helps to raise awareness about migrant injustices and news around the world. 

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