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

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

healthcare workers

If you are a care worker, you should read our specific Care Worker’s Guide to Covid-19 Immigration Policy instead.

If you are a healthcare worker who needs immigration advice, or if you have any other immigration matter you would like help with, please contact the Immigration Team at Truth Legal.

1.   Visa Extensions for Healthcare Workers

The Government has introduced free visa extensions for some healthcare workers in recognition of their efforts during the pandemic.

You will qualify for a free visa extension if you meet the eligibility criteria.  The extension will be for 12 months beginning on the date your existing visa expires.

If you have already paid to extend your visa but you’re eligible for a free extension, you can claim your payment back.  How you do this depends on whether you’ve had a decision or not.  Full details are on the gov.uk page here, under the heading “If you’ve already applied for an extension”.

Eligibility criteria

To qualify for the free visa extension, both of the following must be true:

  1. your visa must expire between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021; and
  2. you must work for the NHS or an independent healthcare provider in an eligible profession.

These are the eligible professions:

  • biochemist
  • biological scientist
  • dental practitioner
  • health professional
  • medical practitioner
  • medical radiographer
  • midwife
  • nurse
  • occupational therapist
  • ophthalmologist
  • paramedic
  • pharmacist
  • physiotherapist
  • podiatrist
  • psychologist
  • social worker
  • speech and language therapist
  • therapy professional

It’s worth noting that this list was expanded in November 2020 to include more workers, so it may be longer than you remember.

Care workers are not eligible for free visa extensions.  This is controversial, unsurprisingly.  The Government has been pushed to include care workers in the list of eligible professions, but it seems to be holding firm on this point.

Is the extension applied automatically?

Not anymore.

For visas expiring before 1 October 2020, the extension was granted automatically and there was no need to apply.  This is no longer the case.  If your visa expires between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021, you must make an application or your visa will not be extended.

The application is free and straightforward, and you will not have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge.  See our How to apply section below for guidance.

How to apply

If you meet the eligibility criteria above, the first step is to complete this online form.

The Home Office will then send you a message with detailed instructions on how to apply.  You will be asked to submit a selfie and a photo of your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), or other identity document.  All of this is done online, and there is no need to send any original documents.

When you’ve done that, the Home Office will verify your eligibility with your employer.

Finally, your leave will be extended and a new BRP will be sent to you in the post.  The majority of cases are concluded within four weeks.

Be aware that this process has recently changed.  When the scheme was introduced, applicants were required to post their original BRPs to the Home Office, but that is no longer the case.  So there’s no need to worry if your colleagues sent off their BRPs, as it’s likely they applied while that was still the requirement.

2.   Visa Extensions: Family Members of Healthcare Workers

If you are a healthcare worker who is eligible for a free visa extension (see section 1 above), you can also include family members in your application.  If eligible, your family members will be granted a 12 month extension, beginning on the date their existing visa expires.

If you have indefinite leave to remain (ILR), you cannot apply for visa extensions for your family members.

Eligibility criteria

You can only add certain family members.  These are:

  • your husband, wife or partner; and/or
  • your child(ren) under 18.

To be eligible for the extension, both of these things must be true:

  • you are an eligible health worker and your visa expires between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021; and
  • your family member’s visa expires between 1 October 2020 and 31 March 2021.

How to apply

When you complete the online form to apply for your own extension, answer “yes” to the question about dependants.  You will be prompted to enter their details.

You’ll need to upload photos of your family members and photos of their BRPs, or other identity documents.  All of this is done online, and there’s no need to send any original documents by post.

Be aware that this process has recently changed.  When the scheme was introduced, applicants were required to post original BRPs to the Home Office, but that is no longer the case.  So there’s no need to worry if your colleagues sent off BRPs for their family members, as it’s likely they applied while that was still the requirement.

3.   Reimbursement of the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)

About the IHS and the healthcare workers’ exemption

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.

Until recently, healthcare workers had to pay the IHS in the same way as other applicants.

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

Who is exempt?

In short, all foreign healthcare workers are potentially exempt, provided they meet certain criteria.  This includes care workers and non-clinical staff.  Exempt healthcare workers who have already paid their IHS should be reimbursed.

Eligible healthcare workers 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.

How the exemption works depends on when you applied for your visa and what job you do.

The rest of this section is split into the following three parts, so you only need to read the one which is relevant to you.  Care workers and non-clinical staff should read section C.

  1. I have applied or intend to apply for a Health and Care Worker Visa
  2. I have a Tier 2 Visa and I work in an eligible profession
  3. I have a different visa, or I don’t work in an eligible profession

A)   I have applied or intend to apply for a Health and Care Worker Visa

Be careful here: the Health and Care Worker Visa is a new route only available from 4 August 2020.  The new route has replaced the Tier 2 Health and Care Visa, which was a sub-category of the Tier 2 (General) Visa.

You’ll know if you have the new Health and Care Worker Visa because you won’t have paid the IHS when you made your application.  Applicants for the new Health and Care Worker Visa are exempt.

If you did pay the IHS when you made your application, you probably have a Tier 2 Visa.  Please read section B below.

B)   I have a Tier 2 Visa and I work in an eligible profession

If you have a Tier 2 Visa and work in one of the eligible professions listed below, your IHS will be reimbursed to you automatically at six-monthly intervals.  There is no need to make an application.

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.

More information is available here, including what to do if you think you’re eligible but have not received your refund.

Eligible professions:

  • biological scientist
  • biochemist
  • dental practitioner
  • doctor
  • midwife
  • medical radiographer
  • nurse
  • ophthalmic optician
  • paramedic
  • pharmacist
  • physiotherapist
  • physical scientist
  • podiatrist
  • psychologist
  • social worker
  • speech and language therapist
  • therapy professional

If you have a Tier 2 Visa but do not work in one of the eligible professions listed above, you can still get a reimbursement but you will need to make an application.  See section C below.

C)  I have a different visa, or I don’t work in an eligible profession

If you’re a healthcare worker with a different visa, or if you don’t work in one of the eligible professions, you can still get a reimbursement.

You must meet the eligibility criteria and you must make an application.  Reimbursements 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.

Eligibility criteria

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.

How does reimbursement work?

You cannot apply for the whole amount owed to you all at once.

This is 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 no longer be 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, and this is the link to apply.

4.   The Health and Care Worker Visa

What is it?

The Health and Care Worker Visa is a new visa route specifically for healthcare workers.

It was introduced on 4 August 2020, and is available for 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.

Again, there is an exhaustive list of eligible jobs.  Care workers cannot apply unless they are senior, and non-clinical staff cannot apply unless they are in a management position.

For full details and links to apply, see here.  See especially the section entitled ‘Your job’ to check if your job is eligible.

5.   The Bereavement Scheme

We hope you never need this.

If a healthcare 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, care workers and social care workers.

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.

6.   Scenarios

I’m a care worker

  • Visa extensions
  • IHS reimbursement
  • Health and Care Worker Visa (senior care workers only)
  • Bereavement scheme

Unfortunately, you cannot qualify for a free visa extension unless you work in one of the eligible professions. The list does not currently include care workers.

This is controversial, unsurprisingly.  The Government has been pushed to include care workers in the list of eligible professions, but it seems to be holding firm on this point.

Only senior care workers are eligible to apply for the Health and Care Worker Visa.

You and your family are eligible for the bereavement scheme, and you can also claim an IHS reimbursement as long as you meet the criteria.

I work in healthcare but not for the NHS

  • Visa extensions
  • IHS reimbursement
  • Health and Care Worker Visa
  • Bereavement scheme

Working for an independent healthcare provider does not affect your entitlement to any of the above benefits, as long as you meet the various criteria.

I am non-clinical staff in a healthcare setting (e.g. cleaner/porter/admin worker)

  • Visa extensions
  • IHS reimbursement
  • Health and Care Worker Visa
  • Bereavement scheme

As long as you meet the criteria, you can apply for an IHS reimbursement and you and your family members are eligible for the bereavement scheme.

You cannot qualify for a free visa extension unless you work in one of the eligible professions. The Health and Care Worker Visa is only available to clinical staff.

I’m a healthcare worker but my visa expires after 31 March 2021

  • Visa extensions
  • IHS reimbursement
  • Health and Care Worker Visa
  • Bereavement scheme

Free visa extensions are only available for visas expiring on or before 31 March 2021. You should apply to extend your visa in the normal way.

You are eligible for the other benefits as long as you meet the various criteria.