UK government tables new 'cheaper, quicker and easier' Health Visa in Parliament

The new visa, welcomed by Indian professional groups, will be launched from August to create a new fast-track visa route designed to attract the best global health professionals to work in the NHS, for NHS commissioned service providers, and in el...

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LONDON: The UK government tabled a new "cheaper, quicker and easier" Health and Care Visa in Parliament on Tuesday, aimed at attracting overseas doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals to the state-funded National Health Service (NHS) as part of a new post-Brexit visa and immigration system.

The new visa, welcomed by Indian professional groups, will be launched from August to create a new fast-track visa route designed to attract the best global health professionals to work in the NHS, for NHS commissioned service providers, and in eligible occupations in the social care sector.

"We are indebted to overseas health and care professionals for their tremendous contributions, not just in saving thousands of lives throughout this crisis, but for the vital role they play year-round," said Home Secretary Priti Patel, who worked on the new visa with Cabinet colleague Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

"This new visa is part of our new immigration system making it quicker, cheaper and easier for the best and brightest health and care professionals from around the globe to work in our brilliant NHS," she said.

"Our health and care system has always had a proud tradition of welcoming overseas staff to work, train and live in the UK, and I'm proud that the NHS is a destination of choice for talented people from around the world," added Hancock.

The new Health and Care Visa was included in Patel's announcements on Monday, when she laid out further details of the new points-based system to come into force from January 1, 2021, at the end of the Brexit transition period when the UK is no longer bound by the European Union (EU) free movement of people rules.

"The fast-track healthcare visa is a welcome initiative," said Baroness Usha Prashar, Chairperson of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) UK Council.

"The new system will benefit Indian companies and employees doing business in the UK. It is equitable and will provide level playing field to EU and non-EU citizens seeking assignments and skilled jobs in the UK," she said.

The new Health and Care Visa will come with a reduced visa application fee compared to that paid by other skilled workers, including exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) - a long-standing demand of Indian-origin doctors' groups in the UK. Health and care professionals applying on the new route can also expect a decision on whether they can work in the UK within just three weeks, following biometric enrolment.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) has relentlessly campaigned for the scrapping of the IHS, which they had branded as a "financial penalty" on healthcare workers.

The IHS, introduced in April 2015, is imposed on anyone in the UK on a work, study or family visa for longer than six months and is set at 624 pounds per year. With the charge applicable on each member of a family, the overall cost was seen as prohibitive in a number of cases, over and above the tax payments.

The Home Office said that as part of the launch of the Health and Care Visa, those who apply via the visa and their dependants will be exempt from the IHS. Those working in health and social care who do not qualify for the Health and Care Visa will still be able to claim a reimbursement from the IHS if they have paid this on or after March 31, the Home Office said.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it is currently working with the sector to set up operational arrangements for reimbursing health and social care staff outside the scope of the Health and Care visa, which will commence from October.

"The unwavering commitment, skill and compassion staff have shown during the fight against this deadly virus is nothing short of phenomenal, and the reimbursement of the immigration health surcharge recognises the enormous contribution of those who have come to the UK to work in health and social care," said Hancock.

The new Health and Care Visa will apply to eligible roles within the health and care sector.

Under current rules, a Tier 2 (General) visa for a skilled worker - including healthcare professionals - applying from outside the UK, can cost from 464 pounds for a visa lasting up to three years if the job is in national shortage or up to 1,220 pounds for a visa lasting more than three years in a role not in national shortage.

With the new Health and Care Visa, applicants will either pay 232 pounds if they are applying for a visa lasting up to three years or 464 pounds if they are applying for a visa lasting longer than three years.

The complete list of roles eligible for the new fast-track visa include: Biological scientists and biochemists, Physical Scientists, Medical Practitioners, Psychologists, Pharmacists, Ophthalmic Opticians, Dental practitioners, Medical Radiographers, Podiatrists, Health Professionals not elsewhere classified, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Therapists, Therapy professionals not elsewhere classified, Nurses, Midwives, Social Workers, Paramedics.
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