‘It will make a real dif­fer­ence’

NHS work­ers wel­come scrap­ping of fees

The Guardian - - News | Coronaviru­s - Sarah Marsh

Since the start of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, ju­nior doc­tors Ibreez Ajaz and Mo­ham­mad Ivan have been work­ing in the in­ten­sive care unit, do­ing gru­elling 13-hour shifts. At the end of each day they strug­gle to even find the time to buy gro­ceries.

At the same time as work­ing to save lives, the hus­band and wife have been sav­ing for their five-year visa and NHS sur­charge, fi­nan­cial re­quire­ments that will let them stay in the UK when their three-year visa runs out.

So the news yes­ter­day that the gov­ern­ment has ex­empted NHS and care work­ers from the sur­charge – about to rise from £400 a year to £624 – came as wel­come news.

The sur­charge has be­come a heated po­lit­i­cal is­sue. It is paid by mi­grants re­gard­less of whether the health ser­vice is used.

“We are pretty amazed. When I first saw the news I thought it was a joke,” said Ibreez. “I am re­ally glad – it’s great for morale and for show­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for our work. It will make a real dif­fer­ence to how mi­grant work­ers in the NHS feel.”

Pay­ing these fees, as well as visa charges, had taken its toll on the cou­ple. “While we are not liv­ing pay­check to pay­check, we have been scrimp­ing and sav­ing, and we re­ally need to con­sider our next five-year visa and we thought if the sur­charge goes up to £624 a year for both of us – and with visa costs on top of that – it is a lot of money,” said Ibreez, who came to the UK from the US.

She said the sur­charge and ex­tra costs had meant that the cou­ple were un­able to buy a car, adding that for some mi­grants the high costs meant they could not bring their chil­dren over to live with them.

“A car does give you a sense of free­dom – you don’t have to wait for a bus or have to think about tak­ing a cab or any­thing like that.

“Our main con­cern in our first year was about hav­ing enough to pay for a three-year visa,” she said, adding that the cou­ple had had to take on ex­tra hours to af­ford it.

“[All our sav­ings] are not for rainy-day funds but for visas; we have to put a chunk of money aside for that pur­pose and it is a mat­ter of pri­or­ity,” she added. “We are lucky we do not nec­es­sar­ily need to use the health ser­vices but even if we were, we were al­ready pay­ing in for it with taxes and na­tional in­sur­ance. We are also part of the work­force.”

On top of sur­charge fees, a mi­grant worker on a 10-year path­way to ci­ti­zen­ship will pay visa fees every two-and-a-half years in or­der to be al­lowed to keep work­ing. These are cur­rently £1,033.

Af­ter three sets of fees, the worker pays for in­def­i­nite leave to re­main af­ter 10 years, for a fur­ther £2,389. The costs are far higher than in other Euro­pean coun­tries.

Mo­ham­mad reg­u­larly sends money to his mother in Bangladesh, the coun­try he hails from. “Yes, we are both work­ing and that helps us financiall­y to­gether, but yes – if we talk about the money we could save from not pay­ing this, it would help.”

For cou­ples such as Ibreez and Mo­ham­mad, the lift­ing of the charges means they feel a new sense of sup­port.

“It’s fan­tas­tic when peo­ple clap on Thurs­day for the NHS and we are get­ting lots of sup­port within the com­mu­nity but this is a great way for the gov­ern­ment to show that the grat­i­tude is meant.”

She says she and her hus­band both de­cided to come to the UK to sup­port a free health sys­tem. “It was about the con­cept of this uni­ver­sal health­care,” Ibreez said.

Mo­ham­mad added: “The NHS has been prov­ing how health­care should be world­wide and I re­ally like the idea that we can pro­vide to pa­tients with­out think­ing what their cir­cum­stances are. That is a won­der­ful thing.”

Ibreez Ajaz and Mo­ham­mad Ivan say they came to the UK to sup­port a health sys­tem they admired

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