The Liberal Democrats have called on the government to grant all foreign NHS workers a right to remain in the UK.
Lib Dems home affairs spokesperson, Christine Jardine, said foreign NHS staff were putting their lives at risk every day to treat patients with the coronavirus and should be thanked with a permanent right to remain in the UK.
The member for Edinburgh West addressed the home affairs select committee on Tuesday, saying: ‘It is completely unacceptable that anyone working on the frontline and putting themselves in harm’s way during the coronavirus crisis is having to worry about whether or not their visa will be extended. The government must give them certainty that they will have the right to stay.’
She added: ‘The UK should say, loudly and unequivocally, that those who have put their lives at risk for our country are welcome to live in it. They and their families should be granted the right to settle here, without the costs or bureaucratic hurdles that usually involves.
‘That’s why Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to give all foreign nationals working in the NHS and social care indefinite leave to remain in the UK. This would be a small way to recognise and celebrate the enormous contributions that people from all over the world make to our public services and our society more broadly.’
The home office has offered to extend the visas of 2,800 NHS doctors and nurses by one year from October 1.
But MPs like MSP Mark McDonald have argued this does not go far enough. He has written to Holyrood and Westminster urging them to grant foreign nationals the indefinite right to remain and to extend the scheme to accompanying family members, as well as to other vital professions like porters, healthcare assistants and cleaners.
McDonald thanked internationals for placing themselves at ‘significant risk’ to ‘keeping the country going’, adding the government needed to act quickly to secure residencies for family members to ensure workers ‘are not left with huge uncertainty should the very worst happen.’
The one-year extension only applies to tier 2 visa holders and not those on family reunion permits. The Johnson administration is also being criticised for failing to back these pledges in law.
A government spokesperson said: ‘We recognise the huge contribution being made by all frontline NHS workers, and we have already extended visas due to expire in the next six months.
‘We are working with NHS Trusts across the UK to identify those who will benefit and we will continue to work to see if we can assist other frontline workers during this crisis.’
More than 12% of the NHS workforce classify themselves as not being British.