Coronavirus: Bereaved families of migrant NHS cleaners and porters locked out of leave-to-remain scheme

Exclusion of low-paid workers by Home Office branded 'outrageous scandal' by union

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 19 May 2020 20:35 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

NHS porters and cleaners and social care staff have been left out of a Home Office scheme granting families of health workers indefinite leave to remain in the UK if they die of coronavirus, it has been revealed.

The exclusion of some of the NHS’s lowest-paid workers – many of them employed by private companies under outsourcing arrangements – was branded an “outrageous scandal” by the GMB union.

Some 8 per cent of social care home workers are foreign nationals from outside the EU, while non-UK nationals are also strongly represented among the ranks of hospital cleaners, porters, security guards and catering staff who are regarded as key workers but do not qualify for the bereavement scheme.

One NHS cleaner from Nigeria, a mother-of-two who gave her name only as Catherine, said she had been in the UK for 10 years working on a “right to remain” visa which had to be regularly renewed. She said it was “hurtful” to know she was being treated differently from colleagues working alongside her at the hospital.

“I love my job but it’s been incredibly dangerous for all of us working in the hospital,” she said.

“We’ve all come together as a family to fight this virus. So many colleagues have lost their lives and it would make the world of difference and give me peace of mind to know that if something happened to me, my children would be able to continue their life together, in their home as a family.”

Lola McEvoy, NHS organiser for the GMB union, branded the policy “heartless”.

“Once again our lowest-paid key workers are left out in the cold,” she said.

“We ask them to take the maximum risk – but they get minimal reward.

“They have been drafted to the front of the fight on Covid-19 and if – as so many have – they lose their lives in doing so, their families are not looked after.

“It’s only right that they’re offered the same security and peace of mind as directly-employed NHS staff - after all they face the same dangers.”

Labour frontbencher Janet Daby, a former member of the Commons Home Affairs Committee member, said: “It is right that the government has provided protections to the bereaved families of migrant NHS doctors and nurses to remain in the UK.

“But this must now be extended to the bereaved families of all NHS workers – security officers, porters, cleaners and catering staff – who have risked their lives to protect us all.

“Without these protections we risk putting their spouse and dependents at the mercy of the government’s hostile environment policy.

“Claps and thank yous are simply not enough, we must protect the dependents of all our migrant NHS workers that have passed away due to coronavirus.

“They have sacrificed so much for us and where they have stood up for our country, we need to stand up for their families.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Alongside automatic visa extensions for health professions, we have also announced immediate indefinite leave-to-remain for the families of those who sadly pass away, which includes nurses, social workers and therapists working in adult social care.

“We continue to work with the Department of Health and Social Care to look at additional ways we can help the health sector in future.”

Around 3,000 migrant NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics whose working visas expire before 1 October this year have been granted an automatic one-year extension, free of charge. The visa extension will also apply to their family members.

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