A new Reimbursement Scheme has been hailed as a victory for “common sense” and a step in the right direction to attract Indian talent to crucial sectors in the UK.
The UK government has set out details of a new exemption and reimbursement scheme for the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) paid in by overseas healthcare professionals, which had been branded as “unfair” by and thousands of doctors from India who make up a large chunk of this UK workforce. The £400-a-year IHS, set to rise further to £624 this month, is imposed on anyone in the UK on a work, study or family visa for longer than six months to raise funds for the UK taxpayer-funded National Health Service (NHS). In May, at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had finally buckled under a brewing revolt over the issue and announced in Parliament that doctors and healthcare workers already contributing on the NHS frontlines will be exempt from the surcharge. “We can now deliver on our promise as the reimbursement scheme will benefit those who have given so much this year to protect us all from Covid-19,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, as he set out details of the IHS Reimbursement Scheme.
“This will encourage overseas health and care workers to continue to come and work in the UK and help those already living here to provide first-class care and support for patients,” he said.
The new Health and Care Visa launched in August has the exemption to the surcharge already built in, with the IHS Reimbursement Scheme set to work alongside the new post-Brexit visa regime to compensate others. The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), the leading doctors' group campaigning against the “unfair” surcharge for several years, welcomed the “common sense” development.
BAPIO President Dr Ramesh Mehta said: “The government has finally seen what is right and sensible. This is really good news, not only for the Indian doctors and nurses who contribute so much to the NHS but also for the government keen to attract future talent that will help address the severe staff shortages faced by the health service. “Unless the government shows such friendly overtures and sensible immigration policies, the UK stands to lose out on Indian professionals who get drawn to other countries such as Australia and Canada.”
The IHS was brought in to allow foreign workers to access the NHS on broadly the same basis as UK nationals and residents. But with the surcharge applicable to each member of a family, the overall cost was long seen as prohibitive for overseas doctors and healthcare workers who were already making a direct contribution to the NHS, besides their National Insurance contributions. Rebecca Smith, Managing Director of NHS Employers, said: “The government's decision in May to exempt health and social care staff from the fee and reimburse those who have paid it after 31 March this year demonstrated some recognition of the incredible contribution overseas staff make to the NHS. “Now more than ever, we must show our gratitude for all our staff, including those from overseas, who have worked with dedication, fortitude and selflessness to care for our communities in one of the most challenging periods in our history.” Under the new scheme, anyone holding a relevant visa, who has worked in health and social care in Britain continuously for at least six months and paid the surcharge will be eligible for a reimbursement. It will be processed by the NHS Business Services Authority and UK Visa and Immigration and paid out in six-month instalments.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the Reimbursement Scheme is designed for claimants who are in the UK on visas that give them a generic right to work. It confirmed that the new Health and Care Visa, which offers a fast-track visa route for eligible health and care professionals, includes an exemption to the surcharge. The Reimbursement Scheme, meanwhile, ensures that staff not covered by the visa, but who have worked in the NHS or the UK's care sector since March 31, are able to claim reimbursement for themselves and their dependents, even if they paid the surcharge before this date.
According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) study, Indians make up one in 10 of all foreign-born doctors in the NHS. The UK Home Office had earlier announced a surcharge waiver alongside a free-of-charge visa extension for NHS medics whose visa was set to expire this month, in order for them to have the “peace of mind” as they combat the deadly virus across the country's hospitals. The move held out the hope that the policy may be reviewed permanently but it required further representations and a brewing revolt of MPs from with Boris Johnson's own Conservative Party for the eventual change of heart. The move is likely to go a long way in building confidence among Indian professionals considering a career with the NHS, especially under the new fast-track Health and Care Visa aimed at plugging severe staffing pressures amid the coronavirus pandemic.