Free Visa Extensions Not Processed for Frontline Migrant Healthcare Workers in the UK
Earlier in 2020, you may recall we outlined the details of a COVID-19 visa extension concession for NHS and frontline health workers. In this article, we said that employers are supposed to advise the Home Office of staff who are eligible for the extension and that it was advisable for employees to double-check this has been done. Unfortunately, a recent piece in the Guardian newspaper outlines what happens when the process does not run as intended. In this article, we will look at the Home Office visa extension concession for NHS workers, and what happened to those who were eligible but did not have their extension processed properly.
What Is The COVID-19 Healthcare Worker Visa Extension Concession?
Back in March and April 2020 when the Government was concerned about the outbreak of the pandemic, and ensuring sufficient healthcare workers were available to staff the NHS, a concession was put in place to provide a free extension to healthcare worker’s visas. The latest guidance shows this is still in place and states, “If you’re a health worker, you may be eligible for a 1-year extension to your visa for free. This is because of coronavirus (COVID-19). To get the extension, you must:
- have a visa that expires between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021
- work for the NHS or an independent healthcare provider in an eligible profession
- The extension will apply from the date your visa is due to expire”.
The guidance also confirms that family members may also be eligible to secure the one-year extension. For your family member/s to be eligible, the following must apply:
- the main visa holder must be an eligible health worker with a visa expiring between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021
- the family member’s visa expires between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021
Unfortunately, if your visa is due to expire after 31 March 2021, or if you are changing employer, the extension concession does not apply.
The concession is available for those in the following healthcare roles:
- biological scientist
- dental practitioner
- health professional
- medical practitioner
- medical radiographer
- occupational therapist
- social worker
- speech and language therapist therapy professional
On face value, this all appears very straightforward; as long as you are in one of the above roles and your visa expires before 31 March 2021, then you will get a free one-year extension. However, as we will see, this wasn’t so in all cases.
Onus On The Employer To Inform The Home Office Of Extension Eligibility
The Home Office guidance clearly states that it is not for the employee to inform the Home Office of your eligibility of the extension, this is done by the employer. The current process then states that once the employer does this, the employee can then apply for the extension. The information provided states the following, “Your employer will tell UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) if you’re eligible for the extension. If you are eligible, you can apply online. You’ll need to provide: a photo of yourself and a photo of your biometric residence permit (BRP)”. The problem is that because the onus is on the employer to kick-start this process, if this does not happen, perhaps due to an administrative slip, then healthcare workers can be left in limbo with an expired visa.
New Zealand National Told She No Longer Has A Job
On 6 December 2020, the Guardian newspaper ran an article on the case of New Zealand national, Vanessa Janson. The article explained that Janson arrived on shift at A&E the day after her visa expired to be told she no longer had a job. Janson explained, “my husband, Carl, who also qualified for a free visa extension as my spouse, lost his right to work too, and had to give up the business he’d founded. So we’ve had nearly four months with no income and no entitlement to welfare”. The New Zealand national, who had been in the UK for around a decade was told in April she was eligible for the free extension, but this was never applied for.
Quite what happened is not fully clear. Janson says that she received a letter from the Home Office confirming her entitlement to the extension and that UKVI would liaise with her employer (a nursing agency in Yorkshire). She explained, “Whenever I chased they said they had not heard back from Plan B Healthcare, the agency I worked for, but it told me that it had not been contacted”. In response, the Home Office stated, “In order for NHS workers to qualify for the free visa extension scheme, their employers are required to nominate them to UKVI as eligible. In this case, that did not happen, but we have worked to ensure minimal disruption to the status of Mr and Mrs Janson and protect their right to work whilst considering their application on an exceptional basis”. In response, the Jansons say they have not received any such assurances from the Home Office, and the situation had left them without an income for several months, without access to welfare. As a result, the Jansons are now relocating to Ireland. Ms Janson says, “We feel the ten years we have worked here have counted for nothing”.
This case highlights that poorly thought out policies, even if well-intentioned, can impact the lives of real people who have worked hard as frontline healthcare workers in the UK. The fact that Ms Janson had spoken to the Home Office means that this should have been resolved there and then. Stating that they were yet to hear back from her employer, a nursing agency is really no excuse for allowing this to proceed to the point whereby she, and her partner by default, lost their visa. The Home Office says it has reviewed the process and just require a simple form to be returned to them by the employer, and that physical BRP’s no longer need to be sent to UKVI. If you have any concerns, speak to your employer in the first instance, but if you need further reassurance before your visa expires, speak to an immigration Solicitor.