Union decries about-turn on immigration health surcharge

9 October 2020

In May this year, the Government was faced with increasing pressure to exempt health and social care workers from the immigration health surcharge, given the huge contribution to the fight against Covid-19 by many of the workers facing the charge.

The public service union, UNISON, argued that the charge, which overseas workers must pay to use the NHS, was deeply unfair as they already pay their contribution through tax and National Insurance.

It is now angry after the Government, instead of scrapping the fee, has insisted that low-paid health and care staff must pay it and then claim the money back.

UNISON points out that a family of four on a three-year visa would have to find £7488.

The stress and anxiety of trying to scrape the money together while on low wages and working on the Covid frontline is pushing workers to the brink, it said. In addition, the Government recently increased the charge by £224 to £624.

UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Staff still have to find the money to pay the charge. They must scrimp, save and cut back, with all the worry and anxiety that means. No overseas worker should have to pay twice to use the NHS. Forcing them to do so when they’re working to care for us all is unforgivable”.

Instead of exempting all staff from the charge, she explained, the Government has created a system where only tier 2 visa holders, which includes doctors, nurses and paramedics, are totally exempt.

All non-tier 2 visa holders — those in lower paid health and care jobs — will have to pay the cash upfront and claim back a refund every six months for the life of their visa.