More than 6,000 health professionals will have their visas extended by one year free-of-charge, to help them continue the fight against Covid-19, the Home Office has announced.
The free extension applies to those with a visa which expires between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021, and will also cover their eligible family members.
The Home Office previously introduced the free visa renewal scheme in response to the pandemic on 31 March, for health staff whose visas were due to expire by 1 October.
This update comes as health unions, including the BMA, wrote to home secretary Priti Patel calling for an urgent extension to the programme, to prevent workers leaving the country as it entered a second Covid-19 wave last month.
This extension will cover a range of NHS professionals, including medical practitioners, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and allied health professionals, as well as the independent health and care sector.
Those benefiting will need to complete an online form, and their employers will be asked to confirm their eligibility.
The Home Office said it has extended visas to around 6,100 frontline health workers and their eligible family members since the end of March.
In August, the Government also launched a ‘Tier 2 Health and Care visa’, which exempted eligible staff from also paying the immigration health surcharge
Meanwhile, last month it introduced a reimbursement scheme for those who paid earlier in the pandemic. This also followed months of campaigning from healthcare unions.
Priti Patel, home secretary, said: ‘We recognise the huge contribution healthcare professionals from overseas are making across the UK in fighting the devastating impact of coronavirus.
‘We truly value the work these heroes are doing, which is why we’re renewing our free 12-month visa extension offer.’
‘Huge debt of gratitude’
Responding to the announcement, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘We’re glad that the Government has listened to the calls of the BMA by removing this unnecessary, bureaucratic and costly barrier to international healthcare staff continuing to offer their services and expertise here in the months ahead, during what is set to be an incredibly difficult winter.’
‘Our international colleagues have worked tirelessly and selflessly during the pandemic, providing care and support as we all faced unprecedented challenges. This often came at the expense of their own health and wellbeing, and as we know, in too many cases, we have seen staff who came from overseas to look after people in this country tragically lose their own lives to Covid-19.’
He added: ‘We owe this vital group of staff a huge debt of gratitude and they should never have had to worry about their immigration status as they fought this virus on the frontline.’