Letter to the Home Office regarding the visa extension scheme

08 April 2020

Dear Secretary of State,

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is professional body and trade union, representing over 450,000 nursing staff across the UK. For years internationally educated nursing staff have played a vital part in sustaining our health and care services, and in improving the health and wellbeing of the UK’s population. During this emergency, their importance as key workers has never been greater, and it is essential that we explore all avenues to both strengthen and maintain their valuable contribution.

I am writing in relation to the recent decision by your Department to automatically extend the visas of all healthcare professionals employed by the NHS due to the COVID-19 emergency. As we said at the time of the new points-based system being published, we are concerned that it closes the door to lower paid healthcare workers and care assistants from overseas, who currently fill significant numbers of posts in the health and care workforce. While recruitment of overseas staff should not be used as a replacement for domestic workforce supply, it is clear that it will need to continue in the short to medium term so that social care services can continue to function.

We were also disappointed to see the Immigration Health Surcharge remain in place. Nursing staff from abroad, who already pay their taxes, should not have to pay this extra amount for the NHS, which applies whether or not they access services.

We therefore recognise as a helpful measure the temporary extension of visas of healthcare professionals employed by the NHS and the temporary exemption of these individuals from the Immigration Health Surcharge, the result of which will ensure the continued support of thousands of overseas healthcare professionals in this time of unprecedented need. Without them here, our health and care services would be unsafe which is why we are concerned that these measures do not go far enough.

However, responding to COVID-19 is truly a national effort and it is important that there is parity amongst all overseas staff. Limiting the visa extensions to just those employed in the NHS means that many key workers will still be at risk of breaching their visa requirements, and sanctioned yet their work supports some of the most vulnerable in society.

We ask that you publicly confirm that action will be taken to extend the visas of all health and care workers includes our colleagues working in non NHS settings. I ask also that you permanently exempt all health and care staff from the Immigration Health Surcharge. The current emergency has undoubtedly served to highlight and reaffirm the importance of internationally educated nursing staff within our health and care system. I therefore urge you to take this opportunity to reconsider your department’s current proposals for the future points based immigration system, which provides no appropriate immigration route for social care workers, care assistants and support workers who are so vital to our population’s health both in this time of emergency and beyond.

Yours sincerely,
Dame Donna Kinnair
Chief Executive & General Secretary

Page last updated - 05/11/2020