What are the Liberal Democrats calling for?
We’re calling on the Government to grant indefinite leave to remain in the UK – the right to stay – to all foreign nationals currently working in the NHS and social care, and their families.
How many people from other countries work in the NHS and social care?
About 1 in 7 people who work in the NHS are foreign nationals, according to the latest data from NHS digital.
In England alone, that’s 171,000 people – including 36,000 doctors, 59,000 nurses and 40,000 clinical support staff.
Meanwhile, figures from Skills for Care show that 1 in 6 of the adult social care workforce in England are foreign nationals: 249,000 care staff.
As these numbers demonstrate, there are hundreds of thousands of people from other countries on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic here in the UK. Like the rest of our wonderful NHS and care staff, they are putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure we get the care we need.
Surely they already have the right to stay?
You’d think so, but no.
Some do already have the right to stay, but many others face having to reapply or being forced to leave the UK – some as soon as October.
First, there are the EU citizens (68,000 in the NHS and 115,000 in adult social care in England), most of whom have come to work in the UK thanks to free movement. Under the Conservatives’ plans, they will lose that right when free movement ends at the end of 2020. Boris Johnson promised them the automatic right to stay, but has reneged on that – instead forcing them to apply for Settled Status and putting them at risk of a new Windrush-style scandal.
Then there are those from outside the EU (103,000 in the NHS and 134,000 in social care). Many of these are on “Tier 2” general work visas, often lasting for just two or three years at a time. When their visas expire, they will either have to reapply or leave the UK.
So what is the Government doing about this?
The Government has announced a free one-year visa extension for around 3,000 health and care staff with visas due to expire before 1st October.
However, the Government has excluded many of those on the frontlines, such as hospital porters, cleaners and social care workers, from this offer. Even those who are included will be forced to renew their visas next year – at a cost of around £700 per person – or leave the country.
And then there are the NHS and care workers whose visas are due to expire after the end of September. The Conservatives are doing nothing for them, which means frontline workers could find themselves being forced to leave the UK as early as October.
That’s simply not good enough.
The idea that anyone who has worked so hard to save lives during this emergency might one day be forced to leave should be unthinkable.
What’s the solution?
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.
That’s why the Liberal Democrats are fighting to give all NHS and care staff from other countries the right to stay in the UK. The Government should grant them and their families the right to settle here, without the costs or bureaucratic hurdles that usually involves.
This would be a small way to recognise and celebrate the enormous contributions that people from all over the world make to our NHS – and to our society, our economy and our communities more broadly.