Hike to immigration health surcharge will ‘penalise’ NHS workers from overseas, campaigners say

'At a time of unprecedented workforce shortages, this is sending the completely wrong message to talented staff from around the world, who the NHS vitally depends on,' says British Medical Association

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 12 March 2020 00:59
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The hike in the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) will mean a single person will now face a £624 yearly fee – or £3,120 over five years – while a child will pay £470 each year, triple the cost of the fee when it was introduced in 2015
The hike in the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) will mean a single person will now face a £624 yearly fee – or £3,120 over five years – while a child will pay £470 each year, triple the cost of the fee when it was introduced in 2015

Ministers have been accused of “penalising” much-needed healthcare workers from overseas and pricing people out of immigration status after the Chancellor announced a hike to NHS fees for migrants.

Rishi Sunak announced during his Budget speech on Wednesday that the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) – paid annually by migrants living in Britain – would increase from £400 to £624 to ensure that that “what people get out, they also put in”.​

Campaigners say these people already pay tax and national insurance like British nationals, and are therefore being “charged twice” for NHS treatment, accusing the chancellor of using “dog-whistle politics”.

The fee hike will mean a single person will now face a £624 yearly fee – or £3,120 over five years – while a child will pay £470 each year, triple the cost of the fee when it was introduced in 2015.

This is on top of what have already been described as “sky-high” visa fees for people coming to work in the UK – which currently stand at £1,220 per person, or £900 for those on the shortage occupation list – among the highest in the world.

The IHS previously applied to all non-EU citizens, but now people from the EU will also be required to pay it.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair at the British Medical Association (BMA), said Mr Sunak’s announcement sent the “completely wrong message” to talented staff from around the world who the NHS “vitally” depends on, warning that it could dissuade them from coming to Britain.

“While the government says it wants to make it easier for international staff to come to work in the health service – they are doing the exact opposite by penalising overseas healthcare workers by charging them to use the very service they are contributing their skills to,” he said.

“The BMA is clear that the UK should be a welcoming nation for our overseas medical workforce who provide essential frontline services to patients in the NHS daily – not one that creates bureaucratic hurdles and financial barriers.”

A spokesperson for the Treasury said the government hoped the new “NHS visa” promised by Boris Johnson last year would make it easier for doctors and nurses from around the world to work in the UK.

Caitlin Boswell Jones, project officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), warned that the “huge” increase would also price people out of citizenship and status, leading to more people becoming undocumented.

She added: “This is double taxation on migrants, who already contribute more in taxes than they take out, and many of whom are the backbone of the NHS itself.

“At a time when we desperately need to strengthen our health system, the IHS must be scrapped, or we make life in the UK more unaffordable and unliveable for migrants, without whose taxes and labour our NHS will collapse.”

Vanessa Ganguin, managing partner at Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law, accused Mr Sunak of using "dog-whistle politics" when announcing the fee increase, by framing the IHS as a "charge to stop people abusing the system".

"The measure may sadly prove to be another discouragement to those who would come to the UK to work in the NHS and contribute to taxes here, while perpetuating the populist fallacy of immigrants taking advantage of the system," she added.

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