NHS visa extension ‘may not apply to all staff’

Access to physical PPE has been a key issue, and political battleground, of the coronavirus crisis. But, as the UK reopens, we may now also need to be thinking about mental health 'PPE'. Image by Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images

Proposals to extend the visas of NHS workers may not apply to as many people as initially thought, immigration experts have warned a group of MPs.

The home affairs select committee was told that plans to automatically extend NHS workers’ visas due to expire before 1 October 2020 by a year may only apply to holders of tier 2 visas – such as doctors, nurses and paramedics – but not those with family reunion visas, nor porters, healthcare assistants or cleaners.

When the plans were announced on 31 March, home secretary Priti Patel said around 2,800 NHS workers would benefit. However, Adrian Berry, the chair of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, told the home affairs select committee that many frontline NHS staff from overseas could find themselves ineligible.

He said: “One of the problems that emerged is that the Home Office policy on extending leave to remain for such persons… initially appeared to include everybody working in the NHS but then subsequently looks as if it has been limited to those on tier 2 visas – work permit visas, in other words – and not family reunion visas or other things.

“It may also be restricted to certain types of work in the NHS – for example, doctors and nurses – and not those, for example, like hospital porters and others who do essential jobs in the National Health Service.”

Immigration barrister Colin Yeo questioned whether there needed to be a statutory instrument to bring the extension into law, or whether qualifying visa holders needed written notice from the Home Office.

Conservative MP Tim Lawton, a member of the home affairs committee, said it was the general understanding that the government has granted a “blanket extension” to all NHS workers whose visas are due to expire before 1 October.

“What you’re saying, to be clear, is: one, it’s not clear that it’s all NHS workers; it may just be limited to tier 2 visas. Secondly, even for those who do qualify on that basis, there’s no legal backing for those protections without a statutory instrument at the very least, so they could find themselves inadvertently in good faith having accepted that extension when in fact they have no legal basis still to be here after their visa expires.”

A Home Office spokesperson said the extension applies to doctors, nurses and paramedics, but it would be working closely with NHS trusts identify who would benefit and consider whether it could assist any other frontline workers during the coronavirus crisis.

The spokesperson said existing immigration legislation enables the home secretary to act in exceptional circumstances like those the UK is currently facing, so legislative change is not necessary.

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