The Immigration Health Surcharge is a now well known term among applicants and practitioners as it was introduced almost 3 years ago, on 6 April 2015. Unlike application fees, it remained static at £200 per year for non-EEA nationals applying to work, study or join your family in the UK for more than 6 months. Those under Tier 4 (students) or Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visas currently pay a discounted rate of £150 a year. The money generated by the health surcharge goes directly towards funding the NHS. Having paid the surcharge, migrants then have same access to the NHS as a UK permanent resident for the duration of their visa.
Two days ago, the government announced its plan to double the surcharge. From £200 to £400 for those applying to work, study or joint the family for over 6 months and from £150 to £300 for student and Youth Mobility Scheme visa applicants.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) estimates that the NHS spends £470 on average per person per year on treating surcharge payers. Projections suggest that the increased charges may provide around £220m extra every year, with this money going to NHS services to better reflect the actual costs to the NHS of treating those who pay the surcharge.
Our Health and Immigration Ministers are in favour.
Health Minister James O’Shaughnessy said:
"Our NHS is always there when you need it, paid for by British taxpayers. We welcome long-term migrants using the NHS, but it is only right that they make a fair contribution to its long-term sustainability.
By increasing the surcharge so that it better reflects the actual costs of using health services, this government is providing an extra £220 million a year to support the NHS."
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said:
"It is only right that people who come to the UK should contribute to the running of the NHS. The surcharge offers access to health care services that are far more comprehensive and at a much lower cost than many other countries.
The income generated goes directly to NHS services, helping to protect and sustain our world-class healthcare system for everyone who uses it."
But not everyone thinks the increase is a good idea. An article explores the practical consequences of the increase in the context of the NHS workforce. There are believed to be shortages of staff such as nurses and doctors, leaving NHS to recruit workers from outside of the EU. A work visa is required for this. Often this is initially for a period up to 3 years. Under these plans, the health surcharge would cost £1200 and an application fee of around £587. For those with a family, the same costs would need to be borne for each dependant family member. To conclude:
"...Greater upfront costs of getting into the UK to work - also including professional registration fees - are likely to make the prospect of working in the health service less attractive for overseas health workers and make NHS trusts; efforts to recruit from overseas in the face of staff shortages even more challenging."
The figure is still short of what was pledged by the Tories during last year's election manifesto which stated the immigration health surcharge would be tripled to £600 for workers and £450 for students. The hike announcement only being a plan so far, who knows what the final figure will be. More on this later in the year, with plenty of media coverage to keep us going in the meantime.