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Care sector ‘overlooked’ for free visa extension scheme

UNISON is calling for all overseas health and social care staff to be included in the Home Office’s free visa extension scheme. 

Free one-year visa extensions will be automatically granted to eligible overseas health and care workers whose visas were due to expire before October 1 2021, Priti Patel has announced.

The Home Office said the extension will cover healthcare professionals working in the NHS and the independent health and care sector. Their visas will be extended for a year, free of all fees and charges, including the Immigration Health Surcharge.

However, social care staff are not included in the full list of health professions, defined by the Standard Occupational Classification code, that have been deemed eligible for the free visa extension.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said the care sector has been ‘overlooked again’ and is calling for the scheme to be extended to all overseas health and social care staff.

‘Thousands of NHS workers will be relieved they don’t face hefty bills to continue providing vital services across the UK.

‘Many have faced huge stresses and pushed themselves to the limit to treat and look after us all. It’s only right the government looks after them and makes their lives a little easier by granting free visas.

‘But it looks like the care sector has been overlooked again. This scheme must extend to all employees in health and care, particularly the lowest paid who need this help the most.’

Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, welcomed the extension but said it is no substitute for a long-term workforce strategy.

‘It is absolutely imperative that the NHS is able to continue to access talent from overseas to bolster the workforce, as the backlog of treatment caused by the pandemic grows.

This is alongside other demands for care such as mental health needs and long Covid, as well as tackling Covid itself.

‘This further visa extension will help somewhat, and it should also go some way towards recognising the vital contribution our overseas staff make.

‘However, to alleviate the chronic workforce shortages in the health service, the NHS still needs a fully funded, long-term workforce strategy.

‘Furthermore, we remain deeply concerned that care worker roles are not included, as there are also huge shortages across that sector, and it is well-established that a strong social care sector helps to support a strong NHS.’

Home secretary Priti Patel said those benefiting from the extension will need to complete a simple online form to verify their identity. The Home Office will also ask their employers to confirm their eligibility.

‘The dedication and skill of overseas health and care workers who are leading the UK’s fight against coronavirus is truly extraordinary.

‘Thousands of them have helped save countless lives throughout this pandemic and are now playing a vital part in the hugely successful vaccination rollout.

‘Our offer of free visa extensions shows how our country values the contributions of these heroes.’

A government spokesperson: ‘We recognise the huge contribution healthcare professionals from overseas are making across the country in fighting the coronavirus.

‘The automatic visa extension – which will benefit key health occupations working in the social care sector, such as nurses, occupational therapists and social workers – is just one of the ways the Government is showing its support and gratitude.

More widely, eligible health professionals, and their dependants, can apply for the new fast-track Health and Care visa, which makes it easier and quicker for the best global health professionals to work in the NHS, the social care sector and for those organisations which provide commissioned services to the NHS.’

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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