Posted on 12/10/2018 by David Burgess
Ministers say increased fee represents 'fair contribution' but change will prompt fears that migrants will be unable to afford healthcare
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the charge, which applies to migrants from outside the the EU, represented “a good deal for those seeking to live in the UK temporarily”.
The higher fee, which will be subject to parliamentary approval, will ensure migrants make a “fair contribution”, she said.
The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) was introduced in 2015. It applies to migrants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who want to stay in Britain for at least six months.
Students and 18- to 30-year olds on international schemes will have to pay a discounted rate of £300 – up from £150.
In a written statement to MPs, Ms Nokes said: “Our NHS is always there when you need it, paid for by British taxpayers. We welcome long-term migrants using the NHS, but believe it is right that they make a fair contribution to its long-term sustainability. That is why we introduced the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) in April 2015.
“Those who pay the charge may access the NHS on the same basis as UK residents for the duration of their lawful stay, i.e. they receive NHS care generally free of charge but may be charged for services a permanent resident would also pay for, such as prescription charges in England.”
Organisations representing NHS staff called the move “punitive and short-sighted”.
The IHS is levied when people apply for a visa to come to Britain and must be paid each year.
Ms Nokes said that, since its introduction, it has raised over £600m for spending on the NHS. The level of the charge has not changed since 2015.
The government announced plans to double the IHS in January. However, the rise does not fulfil the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to increase the charge to £600.
The increase follows a review by the Department of Health and Social Care, which found that the NHS spends an average of £470 a year on treating people who pay surcharge.
Ms Nokes said: “The proposed amount is still below full average cost recovery level and remains a good deal for those seeking to live in the UK temporarily. These changes do not affect permanent residents, who are not required to pay the IHS.
“Certain vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers and modern slavery victims are exempt from paying the IHS. Short-term migrants (including those on visitor visas) and those without permission to be in the UK are generally charged for secondary care treatment by the NHS at the point of access.”
However, the change is likely to prompt concerns that low-paid migrants may not be able to cover the costs of their health treatment.
Some migrants living in the UK have previously had to return home or send their children home because they cannot afford to pay the surcharge.
Evaline Omondi, a nurse from Kenya, has spoken of being forced to send her two young children back to her home country after she was asked to pay £3,600 in IHS fees for two adults and her four children.
The Royal College of Nursing has called for NHS staff to be exempted from the IHS, saying the charge is “tearing families apart”.
Responding to news that the fee will be doubled, Tom Sandford, RCN’s director, said: “The government’s hostile environment appears to be alive and well, embodied by this punitive and short-sighted decision to double the overseas surcharge. These charges can tear families apart, in some cases forcing hardworking nurses to send their children back to their country of origin, while they remain to work in the service of our NHS.
“This is at a time when our healthcare system is facing almost unprecedented staff shortages, with 41,000 nurse vacancies in England alone. The UK depends on professionals from around the world, and we are proud to have the best and brightest from over 200 countries represented here.
“Yet the Government seems to have learnt nothing from the Windrush scandal and is still sending the message that they are no longer welcome. Make no mistake: overseas staff keep the NHS running; the government should be thanking them, not doubling the price of admission. We call on the Home Office to waive this policy for non-EEA nursing staff immediately.”
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the policy would also penalise migrant doctors working in the NHS.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA council, said: “This policy will do nothing but further penalise international doctors who are choosing to work in an understaffed, underfunded and under-resourced NHS.
“These doctors are delivering key health services and already paying tax and national insurance contributions. It is absurd that immigration policies continue to seek to penalise overseas medics in the middle of the worst recruitment crisis the NHS has seen. We would like to see doctors exempt from this charge.”