In Depth

Coronavirus: what will happen to foreign nationals in the UK?

Priti Patel urged to give NHS workers and their families indefinite right to stay

A cross-party group of more than 60 MPs is calling for foreign NHS workers to be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, in recognition of their roles in battling the coronavirus outbreak. 

The MPs - led by Liberal Democrats home affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine and Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy - have written to Home Secretary Priti Patel urging her to say that “those who have put their lives at risk for our country are welcome to live in it”.

The Guardian reports that the cross-party group also want indefinite leave to remain to be extended to the families of all foreign nationals working in the NHS.

Last week, the government announced a one-year extension for 2,800 foreign doctors, nurses and paramedics whose visas were due to expire by 1 October.

What exactly are the MPs saying?

The politicians, who include a Conservative MP, argue that the government’s measures to protect the status of foreign NHS workers have not gone far enough. 

Calling for urgent action, Lib Dem MP Jardine said: “Thousands of the doctors, nurses and support staff who work in our NHS - the people on the front line of this crisis - are foreign nationals. Our beloved NHS could not function and lives would be lost at this difficult time without their contribution.

“Right across the UK, we have seen people’s enormous pride in the NHS and goodwill towards NHS staff. Now the government has a chance to show its own support for the people’s heroes by extending the right to remain to all the foreign national NHS workers fighting for our lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Other signatories to the letter include former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and ex-Labour leadership contender Jess Phillips.

Responding to the demands, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We recognise and value the huge contribution which foreign NHS workers are making at this difficult time.

“That is why we announced an automatic 12-month, free of charge, visa extension for NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics whose visa will expire before October, to ease the situation for them. We are continuing to see how else we can further assist front-line NHS workers during this crisis.”

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What is the situation for other foreign nationals?

The Home Office announced last month that foreign nationals in the UK who were unable to return to their home countries as a result of the coronavirus outbreak would be granted visa extensions, as The Independent reported at the time. 

People who cannot leave the country because of travel bans or self-isolation but whose UK visas expire between 24 January and 31 May are being urged to inform the Home Office if they wish to extend their stay.

According to the newspaper, ministers have promised that the situation will be kept “under regular review in case further extensions are needed”.

Just before the visa extension was announced, The Independent had reported that an 80-year-old woman with lung cancer had been told to return home to Ukraine, despite a ban on all air traffic to the country.

A Covid-19 immigration team has now been formed within the Home Office to make the extension process as “straightforward as possible” for visa holders.

If you are a foreign national whose visa has expired, this team can be contacted on CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk

What about Brits stuck abroad?

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last week announced a £75m fund to rescue hundreds of thousands of British nationals stranded overseas as a result of the pandemic.

The repatriation push follows widespread criticism of the Foreign Office over its initial failure to provide routes home for Brits stuck abroad.

The BBC reports that about 2,000 British nationals have so far been brought back from a total of seven countries on flights organised by the department.

However, the scheme is not free, with passengers made to pay up to £1,000 for a seat on the government-chartered flights.

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