International healthcare workers should have their visas automatically renewed for free to ensure they can help tackle the UK’s second wave of coronavirus, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.
Between the end of March and October 1, health and care staff with expiring visas had them automatically renewed for 12 months free-of-charge, allowing them to stay and work in the country.
Now, the BMA, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unison have written to Home Secretary Priti Patel asking for the system to be extended “as a matter of urgency”.
The joint letter said: “It is clear we are now entering a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“With daily cases reaching record highs we need to do as much as possible to retain the skills and experience of our talented overseas colleagues as we have an incredibly tough few months ahead.”
It added: “We are calling on you as Home Secretary to intervene to renew the visa extension as a matter of urgency, on a rolling basis for the duration of the pandemic, to reflect the ongoing crisis and to demonstrate that our thankfulness for the sacrifice of these workers has not diminished.”
The groups have also asked for the Government to refund any workers who have already paid to have their visas extended since October 1.
Dr Nagpaul, from the BMA – which represents doctors in the UK, said international staff had worked “tirelessly and selflessly” during the pandemic.
He added: “This often came at the expense of their own health and wellbeing, and as we know, in too many cases, we have seen staff who came from overseas to look after people in this country tragically lose their own lives to this dreadful virus.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN chief executive, said: “Overseas nursing staff make a vital contribution to the nursing workforce and they have been under significant pressure caring for patients during the pandemic.
“It is unfair that at the same time they should be worrying about arranging an extension to their visa.
“If the Government wants to show support and recognition of those who have dedicated themselves to caring for UK patients, they should act now to grant automatic extension to visas throughout the pandemic.”
Sara Gorton, Unison head of health, said: “As infection rates rise, the NHS and social care services are going to need all the help they can get. The Government must extend the visa scheme for frontline staff.”