If you’re working in care right now, we know your time is precious.

That’s why we’ve put together this quick guide to all things immigration for foreign care workers in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you are a care worker who needs immigration advice, or if you have any other immigration matter you would like help with, please contact our immigration specialists.

healthcare worker

1.   Reimbursement of the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)

About the IHS

The Immigration Health Surcharge is a fee levied on the majority of non-EEA UK visa applications.  The current fee for an adult is £624 per year, payable in full when the application is submitted.  The total sum can be thousands of pounds.

The pandemic has forced a policy change, and now foreign healthcare workers are no longer required to pay to use a service that they themselves provide.

Can care workers claim a reimbursement?

Yes.

You can claim a refund if you meet the eligibility criteria, and so can certain of your family members.

Care workers who are themselves eligible for an IHS reimbursement can also claim reimbursement for their:

  • husband, wife or partner;
  • child(ren) under 18; and/or
  • child(ren) 18 or over, if in the UK as a dependant of the healthcare worker.

Eligibility criteria

To be eligible for a reimbursement, you must be working or have previously worked in a health and social care job:

  • for six months or more,
  • for an average of 16 hours per week,
  • on or after 31 March 2020.

If you took annual leave, maternity leave or sickness leave, you can include the hours you would have worked if you’d been working.

Unpaid breaks from work might be ok, as long as they total less than 28 days and are taken for a good reason, such as changing jobs or personal circumstances.  You’ll probably be asked to explain any unpaid breaks as part of your application.

It’s also ok if you’ve changed employers, as long as you met the eligibility criteria in each job and any break between jobs doesn’t last longer than 28 days.

How can I claim the reimbursement?

You will need to make an application here.  The reimbursement will not be paid automatically.

You will only be reimbursed for the period beginning 1 April 2020, as this is the date to which the Government has backdated the refunds.  This is the same for all healthcare workers, not just care workers.

Unfortunately, you cannot apply for the whole amount owed to you all at once.  Again, this is the case for all healthcare workers.  It’s annoying, but the Home Office’s thinking is that you might stop working in healthcare during your time in the UK and then you would stop being eligible for the exemption.

You will need to apply for reimbursements every six months, each time showing that you’ve met the eligibility criteria for that six-month period.

More information is available here.

2.   The Bereavement Scheme

We hope you never need this.

If a care worker dies of Covid-19, their family members can get immediate indefinite leave to remain (ILR) free of charge.  This applies to those working for both the NHS and independent healthcare providers and it also includes support staff.

In these circumstances there is no need for family members to do anything.  The Home Office will contact the deceased’s employer and arrange for those affected to be issued with indefinite leave to remain.

If relatives believe they are eligible but have not yet heard anything, they can email the Home Office at [email protected].

More information is available here.

3.   The Health and Care Worker Visa

The Health and Care Worker Visa is only available to a small minority of care workers.  These are senior care workers, care managers and care establishment owners.

If you are in this group, please read on below as you may be eligible and you may want to consider switching.

What is the Health and Care Worker Visa?

It’s a new visa route specifically for healthcare workers.

The Health and Care Worker Visa was introduced on 4 August 2020, and is available for some healthcare workers coming to live and work in the UK from 1 January 2021.

It is a sub-category of the Skilled Worker route, and the Skilled Worker route recently replaced what used to be called the Tier 2 (General) route.

What are the benefits of the Health and Care Worker Visa?

Firstly, it’s cheaper.  Fees are much lower than other applications and you won’t have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge.  This could save you thousands.

Secondly, it’s faster.  Decisions are usually made within three weeks of the applicant supplying their biometric information.  Compare this to the Skilled Worker route, where applicants wait between eight and 20 weeks for a decision.

Can I switch to the Health and Care Worker Visa?

Yes, if you meet the eligibility criteria.  Most applications to switch can be submitted from inside the UK so there’s no need to leave the country.

Should I switch?

It depends on your situation.

You might save some money by switching.  You might secure a longer stay by switching, as the Health and Care Worker Visa can be granted for a maximum period of five years.

Eligibility criteria

The usual Skilled Worker requirements apply: you must work for an approved employer, have a certificate of sponsorship, meet a minimum salary threshold, and in some cases prove your knowledge of English

For more on the English language requirement, see here.

In addition, you must be professionally qualified and work in an eligible health or social care job.

This is where most care workers are excluded, as only senior care workers, care managers and care establishment proprietors are on the list of eligible jobs.

For full details and links to apply, see here.  See especially the section entitled ‘Your job’ to make sure you are eligible.

4.   Visa Extensions

Maybe you’ve heard about the free visa extensions available to certain healthcare workers during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, the offer does not currently extend to care workers.

This is controversial, unsurprisingly.  Care workers have been very much on the frontline during this pandemic, working hard to protect the most vulnerable in our society and quite literally saving lives.

The Government has been pushed to include care workers in the list of professions eligible for free visa extensions, but it seems to be holding firm on this point.  We’ll let you know here if anything changes but sadly, we’re not optimistic.