Migrant NHS Workers Should be Granted Indefinite Leave to Remain

London: Migrant workers have been essential to the operations of the NHS ever since its inception in 1948. Over the decades, many programmes have been used to encourage and find overseas workers and help them migrate to the UK to be employed in the healthcare system, demonstrating our governments acknowledgement of how important they are. As early as 1949, campaigns were made by the UK government in the Caribbean to recruit NHS staff, through advertisements in local newspapers.

However, throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic, many have argued that migrant workers have not been given the rightful respect or recognition in which they truly deserve. Many of them have been putting their lives on the line every single day fighting against a deadly virus, yet still face immigration insecurity.

There are currently 170,000 overseas NHS workers from 200 countries residing within the UK, many of which have to apply every year for five years to renew their work visas. Some are required to have employers provide certificates of sponsorship for them, and if they do not, then they can be deported at any time despite their critical service to the country. These certificates are necessary for those applying for skilled worker visas, to prove that the conditions of the visa have been met. If they are not signed it becomes increasingly difficult for migrants to apply for the visa needed to remain in the UK. As the pandemic has raged on since March 2020, support for a Private Member’s Bill which would grant migrant NHS workers indefinite leave to remain has grown.

What Must Be Done

Support for migrant NHS workers must be given during this period. The impact that the current crisis has had on their lives has been unprecedented. The lack of commitment by the Government to protecting their immigration status in these circumstances has had a serious impact on morale, as for many that was the light at the end of the tunnel for their anxieties and worries. In an interview, Eva Omondi, an NHS migrant worker, stated that the current environment is “emotionally draining” and that she feels “betrayed” by the governments lack of dedication to supporting healthcare workers. Some workers have also reported fears that catching COVID may lead to their deportation, as the potential of the inability to work would put their immigration status at serious risk. For frontline workers during a pandemic, this is inhumane. No worker who is putting their life at risk should be punished for contracting a deadly virus.

Without clear support for the Bill being demonstrated, the Government could continue to delay the process of second and third readings. This would extend past the March 31st deadline for the visa extensions, leaving many migrant workers once again in insecure environments with no security.

Moral debates have been popular during the pandemic crisis. Many people have argued that doing what is right morally is necessary. In this case, it is the Government’s moral obligation to reward migrant NHS workers for their vital service. Whilst it may be argued that the Government and an immigration system should not ‘reward’ or ‘punish’ migrants, the reality is that the Government encourages migrants to prove themselves before becoming citizens, whether it be through a test to demonstrate language proficiency and cultural knowledge, or through being able to find employment.

Under this umbrella, it is clear that migrant healthcare workers are definitely ‘proving themselves’ through put their life on the line during this pandemic. If this sort of service is not enough for the Government to grant indefinite leave to remain, then it is difficult to see what would be. It is evident that the measures proposed in this Bill are the right thing to do.

Source: Aaron Gates-Lincoln, Imminews,

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