The Immigration Bill published recently by the UK government, and now out for consultation, contains a proposal to charge each temporary migrant a health levy that could have far-reaching consequences.
This levy is likely to comprise a flat fee of between £200 and £500 for each year that the migrant plans to spend in the UK.
It is proposed that the fee, to contribute towards the cost of NHS healthcare, will be paid at the point when the migrant applies for a visa, so as to avoid the NHS having to charge users at the “point of use”.
Alternative proposals, such as mandatory private health insurance, are also being considered but it seems likely that a flat fee structure will be preferred.
The proposals have proved to be highly contentious. Some claim it is a further move towards privatisation within the NHS. Others argue that the proposals don’t go far enough and that migrants should be charged the full costs of NHS care rather than a nominal contribution.
The aim underlying the proposals is to “ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute to the economy and deters those who will not.”
But will it deter employers from sponsoring skilled workers who are badly needed by UK PLC?
In practice, employers who sponsor migrant workers in future will probably bear these additional costs. A migrant worker planning to come to the UK for five years could cost an additional £1,000 to £2,500. A migrant worker bringing his family might cost three or four times this amount if these costs are also covered.
For lower-paid jobs, it is conceivable that the proposals may deter employers from hiring a migrant worker. The current shortage list includes biochemists, civil engineers, chefs and others who tend not to be highly paid, and these are the roles that are most likely to be affected by the changes.
Employers may not be inclined to foot the bill for five years’ costs of a migrant health levy for a new recruit who may not remain in his or her employment for the full term.
And that may not be a good thing for the economy, with skills shortages in those areas. • Elaine McIlroy is a senior associate with MacRoberts and a specialist in employment law and immigration law