As part of their purported commitment to the NHS, the British government has announced a new visa scheme tailored specifically for the health and care industry. With applications having opened from 4 August 2020 there is still much confusion around the eligibility requirements for the Health and Care visa, not least because it does not provide a route of entry for care home workers.
Despite any potential shortcomings, the Health and Care Visa is set to provide foreign “qualified doctors, nurses and allied health professionals” with a quicker and cheaper route of entry into the UK than currently exists under the Tier 2 visa policy guidance.
In this article, we look at the key facts behind the Health and Care visa, its eligibility requirements, and how the Immigration Health Surcharge exemption will work in practice.
What is the UK government offering?
In what the UK Home Office has described as a “fast-track” visa route for eligible health and care professionals, a new sub-category of visa has been designed to help talented health professionals to come to the UK to work in the NHS and for other approved healthcare providers.
The Health and Care Visa will come at a reduced cost than is usually applicable for visa applications made by skilled workers, with a visa for up to 3 years costing £232 and a visa for more than 3 years costing £464 (with further reduced rates for citizens of Turkey and Macedonia). In addition, decisions can be expected within three weeks of an applicant having completed biometric enrolment (which involves having a digital photo, fingerprint scans and a copy of your signature taken).
Successful applicants will be able to come to the UK with a Tier 2 (Health and Care) visa for a maximum of 5 years and 14 days, however, applications should be made no earlier than 3 months before qualifying work is due to start in the UK.
To launch the Health and Care Visa, the government have introduced a special exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge for applicants and their dependants. This fee (currently of £400 per year) is usually charged as part of a visa application and grants applicants the ability to use the National Health Service (NHS).
Who is eligible?
The new Health and Care Visa is available to “qualified doctors, nurses and allied health professionals who have been trained to a recognised standard” from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland and who have been offered an eligible role either by an NHS trust, local health board or another approved medical or social care organisation.
Applicants must not own more than 10% of their sponsor’s shares (unless earning more than £159,600 per year, but may be permitted to study, do voluntary work and even undertake a second job if certain circumstances are met during their stay.
A full list of qualifying employers can be found at paragraph A2 of the government’s Tier 2 Policy Guidance, whilst the full list of eligible professions (and their occupational classification codes) is set out below:
- 2112 – Biological scientists and biochemists
- 2113 – Physical Scientists
- 2211 – Medical Practitioners
- 2212 – Psychologists
- 2213 – Pharmacists
- 2214 – Ophthalmic Opticians
- 2215 – Dental practitioners
- 2217 – Medical Radiographers
- 2218 – Podiatrists
- 2219 – Health Professionals not elsewhere classified
- 2221 – Physiotherapists
- 2222 – Occupational Therapists
- 2223 – Speech and Language Therapists
- 2229 – Therapy professionals not elsewhere classified
- 2231 – Nurses
- 2232 – Midwives
- 2442 – Social Workers
- 3213 – Paramedics
In addition to meeting the basic eligibility criteria, applicants for the Health and Care Visa will also need to meet the criteria for a Tier 2 (General) visa, namely:
- having a valid Certificate of Sponsorship from a qualifying employer;
- having evidence of a salary that meets the relevant salary threshold (set out in Appendix J to the Immigration Rules);
- being able to meet the English language requirement (which we explained in a previous article);
- having sufficient personal savings when arriving in the UK (typically an applicant must have £945 in their bank account for 90 days before making an application);
- being able to demonstrate the ability to travel and provide a travel history for the previous five years;
- holding a valid tuberculosis test certificate (for applicants from listed countries); and
- providing a criminal record certificate from any country where the applicant has lived for 12 months or longer during the previous 10 years (if the applicant’s role in the UK will involve work with vulnerable people).
What about care home workers?
The list of eligible professions provided above is exhaustive, and so primary care workers including those who seek to come to the UK to work in a care home will generally not qualify for the Health and Care Visa.
Many migrant social care workers will therefore be unable to come to the UK by applying for a Health and Care Visa – a decision that has sparked criticism from advocates of the care system. The government’s move to exclude primary care workers from applying for the Health and Care Visa is potentially concerning given that many of these essential workers will not meet the necessary income threshold to successfully apply for another type of Visa.
Who is exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge?
In addition to the Health and Care Visa, the UK government has announced a permanent exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge for health and care staff. This exemption will apply to applicants for the Health and Care Visa along with their partners, spouses and dependants.
The government have also pledged to refund the Immigration Health Surcharge for any Tier 2 Visa applicants working in approved health and care roles, provided that they paid the fee on or after 31 March 2020. Health and care workers who do not qualify for the Health and Care Visa will also be reimbursed for payments made towards the Immigration Health Surcharge – although no arrangements have yet been made for these reimbursements to be made.
Expert legal support from W H Solicitors
With applications for the Health and Care Visa having opened from 4 August 2020, the UK could become a viable destination for many highly skilled health and social workers from overseas. Cheaper application fees, a quick turnaround time and free NHS healthcare without the need to pay a surcharge are all attractive features of the new visa scheme.
Despite the government’s eagerness to attract high-quality medical talent, applicants may be struck by how difficult it can be to navigate the UK’s complex immigration system.
At W H Solicitors our extensive knowledge of UK immigration law has helped us to guide scores of clients in making successful visa applications across all categories. We understand how stressful migrating to a new country can be, and our expert team strive to provide our clients with a smooth transition to life in the UK.
If you are a skilled health professional looking to come to the UK, contact our experts on (+44) 01483 608 786 or by emailing [email protected].
We will listen to your concerns, work towards your goals, and find the solution to your immigration problems.