Home secretary Priti Patel has announced that frontline NHS workers whose visas are due to expire before 1 October will be granted free automatic extensions to allow them to remain in the country and support the coronavirus effort.
The extensions will apply to around 2,800 migrants working in the NHS, and will also apply to family members.
Patel said: “Doctors, nurses and paramedics from all over the world are playing a leading role in the NHS’s efforts to tackle coronavirus and save lives.
“We owe them a great deal of gratitude for all that they do. I don’t want them distracted by the visa process. That is why I have automatically extended their visas – free of charge – for a further year.”
These visa extensions will also be exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge, the government confirmed.
Pre-registered overseas nurses who would usually have to sit their first skills test within three months of arrival in the UK and pass it within eight months will now have this deadline extended to the end of the year.
At the same time, the Home Office lifted restrictions on the number of hours student nurses and doctors can work in the NHS.
But Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour’s shadow immigration minister, said the announcement was merely a “piecemeal show of gratitude” by the government.
She said: “The current crisis is showing yet again that the 29% of non-British NHS doctors are completely indispensable to our healthcare system.
“The Home Office’s announcement that it will extend the visas of migrant doctors, nurses, paramedics and their families is a piecemeal show of gratitude. It is completely incommensurate with the superhuman effort migrant workers are putting into the fight against coronavirus.
“Successive immigration policies have no doubt exacerbated key worker shortages. With outstanding staffing gaps in the NHS, there’s no justification for not granting NHS key workers indefinite leave to remain.
“Lest we forget, migrants helped build our NHS. The sheer number of British lives these key workers save every year more than earns them the right to live theirs in this country.”