Overseas health and care workers including nurses will once again be given a free one-year UK visa extension, the Home Office has announced today.
The move applies to most health and care workers in the NHS and independent sector – including nurses, midwives, doctors, paramedics, occupational therapists and psychologists – whose visas are due to run out before 1 October 2021, and their dependents.
The Home Office first granted free automatic visa extensions last year to eligible health and care staff whose visas were due to run out before 1 October 2020. It said the scheme has already benefited more than 10,000 people and is now expected to help a further 14,000 applicants across the UK.
However, trade union Unison highlighted that most care staff are not eligible for the free extension and called on the Government to extend the scheme to all health and care employees, particularly ‘the lowest paid who need help the most’.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘Many have faced huge stresses and pushed themselves to the limit to treat and look after us all. It’s only right the Government looks after them and makes their lives a little easier by granting free visas.’
Home secretary Priti Patel said the offer ‘shows how our country values the contributions’ of health and care staff. She added: ‘Thousands of them have helped save countless lives throughout this pandemic and are now playing a vital part in the hugely successful vaccination rollout.’
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘To help those staff from overseas, we are extending their visas to provide security while they continue to tackle this virus.’
Overseas health professionals applying for a health and care worker visa for the first time still need to pay £234 per person for up to three years and £454 per person for longer.
The health and care visa was introduced in January to give health professionals reduced fees compared to other visas and fast-tracked entry under the post-Brexit immigration system. However, most social care workers also do not qualify for the visa, which unions have warned will worsen existing recruitment problems in the sector.
The Government said 20,000 people have already entered the UK using the visa.