UK PM Johnson refuses to back down on ‘unfair’ surcharge on foreign doctors

By: PTI | London |

Published: May 20, 2020 10:15:02 pm

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday dismissed any hope of a review into what has been branded an “unfair” surcharge on foreign doctors, including Indians, working in the UK’s state-funded National Health Service.

A number of professional associations for doctors in Britain have been campaigning against the annual Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), imposed of foreign workers to raise additional funds for the NHS, as an additional burden while they directly contribute to the health service.

The Opposition Labour Party Leader, Keir Starmer, backed their campaign in the House of Commons during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, when he asked Johnson if he thinks the surcharge on NHS doctors and nurses is “fair”.

“I have thought a great deal about this and I do accept and understand the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff. I have been a personal beneficiary of people and carers who have come from abroad and, frankly, saved my life,” replied Johnson, making a reference to his COVID-19 hospitalisation last month during which he was cared for by foreign medics.

“I know exactly their importance. On the other hand, we must look at the realities that this is a great national service, a national institution which needs funding and those contributions actually help us to raise about 900 million pounds. It is very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources, so I do think that is the right way forward,” he said.

The IHS, introduced in April 2015, is imposed on anyone in the UK on a work, study or family visa for longer than six months and is set for a further hike from 400 pounds to 624 pounds per year.

With the charge applicable on each member of a family, the overall cost is seen as prohibitive in a number of cases, over and above the tax payments.

In a letter to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel by the Doctors Association UK this week, Indian-origin chair Dr Rinesh Parmar branded the surcharge as “deeply unfair” and the government’s move to dismiss a previous statement promising a review into the issue as a “gross insult” to medics on the coronavirus frontlines.

“At a time when we are mourning colleagues your steadfast refusal to reconsider the deeply unfair immigration health surcharge is a gross insult to all who are serving this country at its time of greatest need,” notes the letter.

“Not only is this a betrayal of all these hardworking people, but also represents a deterrent to attracting talented and skilled workers to the UK” a stated aim of this government’s immigration policy,” it adds, in reference to the British government’s new skills-based post-Brexit immigration strategy, which cleared its second reading in the House of Commons this week.

According to a recent Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) study, Indians make up one in 10 of all foreign-born doctors in the NHS and the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO), which represents this group, is among the bodies campaigning against the IHS for years and had most recently written to the UK PM on the issue in March.

“We believe that this surcharge is discriminatory and unfair, as the overseas workers are already paying their due share of National Insurance contributions, superannuation and income tax,” the BAPIO letter said.

“We request you to remove the health surcharge with immediate effect. The NHS has been in a workforce crisis for several years, but now with the COVID-19 epidemic, there has never been a worse time for an overstrained service, and we require all the help we can get to meet the challenges,” it added.

The UK Home Office had announced a free-of-charge visa extension and a waiver of the annual IHS for NHS medics whose visa was set to expire by October, in order for them to have the “peace of mind” as they combat the deadly virus across the country’s hospitals.

Doctors’ associations had hoped that exemption could be made permanent as the “smallest recognition” of the contribution of overseas doctors to the UK’s health service. However, Johnson’s latest statement in Parliament will come as a big blow for their campaign

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