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British PM Boris Johnson drops visa charge for Indian, non-EU doctors, nurses amid Covid-19 pandemic

After a large number of migrant doctors, nurses and healthcare professions passed away, and when it became more widely known that the NHS could not deal with the coronavirus pandemic without their help, public opinion moved towards demands to scrap the surcharge.

indians-abroad Updated: May 21, 2020 22:10 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar | Posted by Kanishka Sarkar
Prasun Sonwalkar | Posted by Kanishka Sarkar
Hindustan Times, London
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the House of Commons during question period amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in London.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the House of Commons during question period amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in London.(UK Parliament via Reuters )

Bowing to intense pressure from inside and outside the Conservative Party, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Thursday the scrapping of the immigration health surcharge levied on Indian and other non-EU doctors, nurses and care workers who take up jobs in the UK.

The surcharge, currently at 400 pounds per person per year, is payable at the time of applying for UK visa. It is due to go up to 624 pounds per person per year from October, as a contribution to access treatment on the National Health Service (NHS).

After a large number of migrant doctors, nurses and healthcare professions passed away, and when it became more widely known that the NHS could not deal with the coronavirus pandemic without their help, public opinion moved towards demands to scrap the surcharge. Johnson recovering from the virus with crucial support from non-UK nurses added to the demand.

Downing Street made the announcement within 24 hours of Johnson resisting the demand in the House of Commons, on the ground that revenue from the fund – estimated to be 900 million pounds over four years – was needed to support the cash-strapped NHS.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “The PM has asked the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care to remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible”.

“Work by officials is now underway on how to implement the change and full details will be announced in the coming days. As the PM said in the House of Commons, he has been thinking about this a great deal. He been a personal beneficiary of carers from abroad and understands the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff”.

“The purpose of the NHS surcharge is to benefit the NHS, help to care for the sick and save lives. NHS and care workers from abroad who are granted visas are doing this already by the fantastic contribution which they make”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who raised the issue with the prime minister on Wednesday, welcomed the announcement: “Boris Johnson is right to have U-turned and backed our proposal to remove the NHS charge for health professionals and care workers”.

“This is a victory for common decency and the right thing to do. We cannot clap our carers one day and then charge them to use our NHS the next”.

Several medical associations and groups had called for the surcharge to be scrapped, including the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.

The development means that the surcharge will continue to be levied on Indian and other non-EU migrants who come to the UK for work in professions and sectors other than medical and healthcare sectors.

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