‘It will make a real difference’
NHS workers welcome scrapping of fees
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