Health and care unions demand extension to free visa renewal scheme for international workers

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: UK
Published: Wednesday 14 October 2020

The British Medical Association is joining health and care unions in demanding that international staff have their visas automatically renewed free of charge to ensure they are able to stay in the UK to help tackle the second wave of Covid-19.

Between the end of March and 1 October, health and care staff whose visas were expiring had theirs automatically renewed for 12 months free of charge.

Now the BMA, Royal College of Nursing and Unison have written to the Home Secretary1 asking that she intervenes and renews the extension as a matter of urgency.

The letter, signed by BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair and Unison head of health Sara Gorton states:

“It is clear we are now entering a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. With daily cases reaching record highs we need to do as much as possible to retain the skills and experience of our talented overseas colleagues as we have an incredibly tough few months ahead. We still owe these workers a huge debt of gratitude and the very least we can do is provide them with some certainty over their immigration status for the remainder of the pandemic.

“We are calling on you as Home Secretary to intervene to renew the visa extension as a matter of urgency, on a rolling basis for the duration of the pandemic, to reflect the ongoing crisis and to demonstrate that our thankfulness for the sacrifice of these workers has not diminished.”

The groups also call on the Government to refund any health or care workers who have already paid to have their visas extended since 1 October and that any process is streamlined to ensure these staff can prioritise patient care.

Commenting, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:

“Our international health and care colleagues have worked tirelessly and selflessly in recent months, providing care and support as we all faced unprecedented challenges. This often came at the expense of their own health and wellbeing, and as we know, in too many cases, we have seen staff who came from overseas to look after people in this country tragically lose their own lives to this dreadful virus.

“These efforts must absolutely not go ignored. The least we owe these committed staff is some certainty over their future in this country, while also ensuring talented staff are able to continue contributing their much-needed skills to the health and care sector through what look to be some intensely difficult months ahead.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN chief executive said:

“Overseas nursing staff make a vital contribution to the nursing workforce and they have been under significant pressure caring for patients during the pandemic. It is unfair that at the same time they be worrying about arranging an extension to their visa.

“If the Government wants to show support and recognition of those who have dedicated themselves to caring for UK patients, they should act now to grant automatic extension to visas throughout the pandemic. This will allow nursing staff to get on with their primary role of caring for their patients without imposing unnecessary uncertainty and stress.”

Sara Gorton, Unison head of health, said:

"As infection rates rise, the NHS and social care services are going to need all the help they can get. The government must extend the visa scheme for frontline staff.

"Workers who've come to the UK to help the NHS in its hour of need must be spared the cost of extending visas.”

Ends

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

1. Joint letter from the BMA, RCN and UNISON to the Home Secretary.