The government has stated that non-EEA family members of any NHS, healthcare or social care worker who has died as a result of coronavirus, will receive immediate indefinite leave to remain, free of charge.
Guidance issued last night (Wednesday 20 May) stipulated that family members must have been working for the NHS or an independent health and care provider, including the social care sector.
The Home Office’s bereavement scheme had previously only applied to certain professions, such as nurses. People working in many lower paid support roles were excluded.
Bereaved family members will not need to contact the authorities to exercise their new rights: UK Visas and Immigration will contact employers to identify those eligible and will arrange for them to be issued with indefinite leave to remain, the guidance stated.
Announcing the extension, home secretary Priti Patel, said: “Every death in this crisis is a tragedy, and sadly some NHS support staff and social care workers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of saving the lives of others.
“When I announced the introduction of the bereavement scheme in April, I said we would continue to work across government to look at ways to offer further support. Today we are extending the scheme to NHS support staff and social care workers.
Workers from overseas and coronvirus
“We want to ensure families have the support they need and so this will be effective immediately and retrospectively.”
The GMB had described the omission of many workers as an “outrageous scandal” and welcomed the change of heart. “It doesn’t matter where you were born – if you fight on the frontline you deserve the same support.”
According to the Guardian, hours before the Home Office announced the U-turn on Wednesday, a hospital cleaner posted a video on Twitter pleading with Boris Johnson to extend the scheme.
Hassan Akkad, a Bafta-winning filmmaker from Syria, told the Guardian he was proud of the work he was doing but felt “stabbed in the back” when he found out he did not qualify for the Home Office scheme.
However, there is to be no relaxation on the imposition of the immigration health surcharge for overseas health workers who used NHS services, Johnson told parliament on Wednesday. This was because “it’s very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources [of cash]”, he said. The surcharge, currently £400 a year, rises to £624 in October and must be paid by all family members.
Seema Malhotra, shadow employment secretary, asked on BBC Newsnight on Wednesday night: “Do we want people who are saving our lives to be paying a surcharge to use the same services they are providing to us?”
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood did not offer support for the current policy replying that he wanted to see a full review of the care sector that had been “ignored for too long” adding how curious it is that we clap for them every Thursday night appreciating what they do but for many years it’s been undervalued across political lines”.
Chetal Patel, partner in the immigration department at Bates Wells, told Personnel Today: “The scope of the [bereavement] policy announcement is far reaching and cover all roles – within the NHS or an independent health and care provider, including the social care sector – irrespective of the skill or salary level, including for instance porters and cleaners. It’s only right that that these roles are covered as they have underpinned our society at a time of crisis.”