‘Hypocrisy’ claim as UK migration law hits NHS key workers

The UK Government was accused of turning its back on many of the NHS and care workers being applauded each week as MPs last night backed legislation scrapping free movement from the EU and creating a new points-based immigration system.

The Immigration Bill cleared its first major parliamentary hurdle at its second Commons reading, with opposition parties warning that thousands of recruits to the NHS and care sectors would be barred by a new earnings threshold for immigrants set to come in at £25,600 per year.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said ending free movement would create a “firmer, fairer and simpler system” that will “play a vital role” in the country’s recovery from Covid-19.

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But her Labour opposite number Nick Thomas-Symonds claimed it was “rank hypocrisy towards our NHS and care workers, over 180,000 in England and Wales alone, to stand and clap for them on a Thursday night, and then tell them that they are not welcome in the UK on a Monday”.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab speaking during a media briefing in Downing Street, London. Picture: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire

A new points-based immigration system will be introduced from 2021, requiring migrants without specific skills and qualifications to speak English and earn just short of the average UK wage.

Details will only be fleshed out in rules expected before the end of the post-Brexit transition phase in December.

The UK Government has come under particular pressure during the coronavirus outbreak to scrap a surcharge paid by non-EU immigrants to access the NHS – including many who work in the health service themselves.

The surcharge, set at £400 and due to rise to £625 by the end of the year, has been waived for a year for all NHS workers whose visas are due to expire before October. The Home Office has also automatically extended healthworkers’ right to remain in the UK by a year. But yesterday the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the government had no plans to abolish the charge entirely, despite the Home Secretary repeating a previous suggestion that it was under review.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Patel said NHS staff were the “very best of Britain”, and said the new immigration system would include a fast-track visa for health workers.

“During these exceptional times, it is right that policies which affect our NHS workers are kept under review including the immigration health surcharge and that’s why I recently announced a free automatic one-year visa extension for those with six months or (less) left to stay on their visas.” Ms Patel added that it was four years on from the Brexit referendum: “We promised the British people we would end free movement, take back control of our borders and restore trust in the immigration system. This Bill delivers on that.”

Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “The Home Secretary has been invisible throughout this crisis - and now her first major intervention is a Bill that will make workers in the NHS and the care sector feel unwelcome in this country, as well as labelling retail workers, carers, local government workers, refuse collectors, and many more as ‘low skilled’ – the very same workers who have been keeping this country running throughout the crisis. This Bill creates a threat to our national interest. It risks the NHS not being able to fill the desperately needed roles for trained nurses and care home workers at the very moment when we rely on the NHS most.”

The SNP’s migration spokesman at Westminster, Stuart McDonald said: “Pushing ahead with this bill in the midst of this crisis, and without learning the lessons of Windrush, shows the Home Office remains totally out of touch with reality, out of touch with public opinion and raises serious questions about the Home Secretary’s judgement.

“The UK government promised to deliver an immigration system for the whole of the UK but has instead brought forward a draconian, ideologically-driven Bill which poses a serious threat to Scotland.

“During the coronavirus crisis, we should be even more mindful of the huge contribution of migrants working in key sectors.

“Instead of recognising this and changing approach, the UK government is content to cut off this crucial route for workers at a time when the UK needs them most.”

A YouGov poll, for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, suggested 54 per cent of Britons would support loosening immigration restrictions for workers who were defined as essential during the crisis. The Government’s list of critical workers includes people in the food production and processing industry, such as delivery drivers, those working in waste disposal and more.

In February the Government announced proposals for the new system, with points awarded for specific requirements such as being able to speak English to a certain level, having a job offer from an approved employer and meeting a salary threshold of £25,600.

Other points could be awarded for certain qualifications and if there is a shortage in a particular occupation.

A visa allowing doctors, nurses and health professionals from overseas to work in the NHS was introduced in March.


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