Britain’s Indian-origin Home Secretary Priti Patel has hit the general election campaign trail with a promise to make it easier for medical professionals from countries like India to be able to address shortages in the UK’s state-funded National Health Service (NHS).
The so-called NHS Visa will be part of a new Points-Based Immigration System (PBIS), which the Conservative Party government plans to introduce if it is voted to power in the December 12 polls. The main features of such a new visa would be a halving of fees and a quicker processing time of just two weeks for qualified doctors and nurses.
“These measures are part of our plan for an Australian-style points-based immigration system that allows us to control numbers while remaining open to vital professions like nurses,” said Ms Patel.
“That means the best of both worlds – attracting talent from around the world so our NHS continues to provide brilliant service while ensuring that it isn’t put under strain by opening Britain’s borders to the entire world,” she said.
Boris Johnson had announced plans for an Australian-style points based immigration system in his maiden speech as British Prime Minister in July, saying the UK would put it in place once it leaves the European Union (EU) and is free of the EU freedom of movement rules.
The features of the proposed NHS Visa will include fees halved from 928 ponds currently to 464 pounds; a fast-track process for applicants with a guaranteed decision within two weeks; preferential treatment in the new system with extra points awarded for anyone coming to work in the NHS; and payment support in the form of applicants being able to pay back the cost of the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) via their salary.
The IHS was introduced in April 2015 and from December last year it was hiked from 200 pounds to 400 pounds per year. It is imposed on anyone in the UK on a work, study or family visa for longer than six months in order to raise additional funds for the NHS.
The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), the UK’s largest representative body for Indian-origin doctors, has been lobbying the UK Home Office for a rethink over the charge on professionals who already contribute to the NHS.
Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals from countries like India are often referred to as the “backbone” of the UK’s healthcare system as thousands have taken critical posts across hospitals and clinics in the country.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I want the NHS to offer each and every one of us the best care in the world, and so as well as expanding training at home, I want to attract the very best talent in the world to our NHS too.
“From its inception the NHS has recruited globally. This new visa will make it easier for us to hire the finest doctors and nurses from other nations to come and work in the NHS – so that patients can receive the best possible care. It’s all part of our long-term plan to ensure the NHS is always there for you in your moment of need.”
All ministers are now on the campaign trail and in the process of making announcements to influence voters in the snap election next month, called by Johnson in an attempt to win a majority for his Conservative Party to get his Brexit deal through a divided Parliament.
“The choice at this election is clear. Vote [Labour Leader] Jeremy Corbyn if you want to delay Brexit, get another deadlocked parliament and two more chaotic referendums, with uncontrolled and unlimited immigration placing pressure on our schools and hospitals,” Ms Patel said.
“Or vote Boris Johnson and the Conservatives to get Brexit done, get immigration under control with a Australian-style based points system and get on with investing in our NHS, our schools and our police,” said Ms Patel, who will be contesting from her Witham constituency in Essex, a seat she has held for the Conservatives since 2010.
The Johnson government had already announced a fast-track visa route to attract specialists in science, engineering and technology and have said that they will scrap the cap on the number of skilled workers, such as doctors, from the EU and around the world, after Brexit.
The party is also considering scrapping the minimum salary requirement of GBP 30,000 for skilled migrants seeking five-year visas.
However, the Opposition Labour Party attacked the lack of detail around the new immigration system proposed by the Tories.
The party’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, said: “This policy is full of holes, with nothing to say about the nurses earning below their income threshold, as well as all the cooks, cleaners, hospital porters and others who are vital to hospitals, and nothing at all about their right to bring family members here.
“Labour’s immigration policy is rational and fair and will prioritise attracting the people we need, and treat them as human beings.”
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