An influential UK parliamentary panel on Monday called on the government to offer British citizenship to all foreign healthcare workers, including Indians, in recognition of their tireless work on the COVID-19 frontline of the country.
In an inquiry report on the coronavirus pandemic, the cross-party House of Commons Home Affairs Committee also branded as "unfair" the exclusion of care workers and lower-paid National Health Service (NHS) staff from fee-free visa extensions announced for overseas NHS staff by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel recently.
"For those who have worked tirelessly to combat COVID-19, and who wish for it, the government should set out new arrangements to offer them British citizenship or permanent residency in recognition of the huge contribution they have made to the UK health and social care system during the COVID-19 crisis," the Committee said in its report.
"We recommend that all NHS staff -- regardless of job role, pay grade or visa route -- and social care workers are offered the same fee-free one-year visa extension. It cannot be right that, at a time when they are providing a vital and life-saving service for the country, non-UK health and care staff have to worry about their status and residency in the country," it notes.
The latest set of recommendations, which must be taken into consideration by the government, comes after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had buckled under pressure from within Parliament and from doctors' groups to scrap the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for all NHS staff and care workers.
However, the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), which has long campaigned for the scrapping of what they branded an unfair financial burden on professionals already contributing to the UK's health sector, is concerned that the move will exclude family members of NHS workers.
"We have learned from the Home Office that the IHS exemption is only for the healthcare worker and not for their family members. This indeed is very disappointing and inappropriate as this will continue to bring hardship specially to low paid health care workers," reads a follow-up letter sent by BAPIO to Johnson.
"We once again request your intervention to avoid financial penalty on healthcare workers who dedicate their passion and life to the patient care," the letter notes.
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 for a further hike from GBP 400 (USD 502) to GBP 624 (USD 783) per year. With the charge applicable on each member of a family, the overall cost is seen as prohibitive in a number of cases, over and above the tax payments.
The UK Home Office says that the details of the IHS exemption for overseas NHS workers will be set out in detail in due course.
"We are working through how to implement changes to the Immigration Health Surcharge. We know that it is important to get this right and further details will be announced shortly," a spokesperson said.