Labour has attacked the government over a “shameful broken promise” after it was revealed that the Tories have not delivered on their pledge to scrap the immigration health surcharge for all health and care workers.
The IHS was introduced by the Tory-led coalition in 2015 to combat alleged ‘medical tourism’. Labour claimed a “victory for common decency” when the government performed a U-turn on the policy in May.
Keir Starmer argued that it was not fair to apply the charge to health and care workers. The Prime Minister initially defended the IHS in all cases, but backed the Labour proposal for an exemption just 24 hours later.
Labour is now highlighting that health and care workers on the frontline – expected to be hit imminently by another wave of coronavirus – are still required to pay the charge, before being reimbursed at a later date.
The opposition party is also stressing that a majority of care workers would be left out of the government exemptions, supposedly for all health and care staff, under the new health and care visa.
New Tory legislation is set to increase the IHS from £400 to £624, which will be unaffordable for many care workers in the country, who earn £19,104 a year on average. A family of two care workers with a child would face a bill of up to £1,718.
Labour’s shadow immigration minister Holly Lynch said: “This amounts to a shameful broken promise by the government to health and care workers who have given so much at the frontline of the Covid crisis.
“The reality is that ministers have been happy to clap for carers, but are now charging them exorbitant fees to use the NHS system that depends on them. It’s completely unacceptable to level upfront charges on low-paid care workers that can amount to thousands of pounds for a family.
“The government is effectively borrowing money from families without ever saying when they will get it back. This will be impossible for many to pay.”
A freedom of information request by Labour in August revealed that the NHS has been forced to pay out more than £15m in immigration fees to the government since 2017 to enable the service to secure enough specialist staff.