BRITAIN has relaxed its Draconian anti-immigration laws for the relatives of all healthcare workers who lost their lives while fighting the pandemic allowing families of such staff to remain in the country permanently.
Hard-hit by the pandemic, Britain has recorded a total of 248,293 of coronavirus and has the second highest number of fatalities globally, with 35,704 dying from the virus. Care workers and National Health Service (NHS) staff have borne the brunt of the pandemic because they have been in the frontline mingling with affected patients.
There is an additional twist to the saga, however, as ethnic minority staff, who tend to given the most dangerous of frontline jobs, are about three times more likely to contract the virus than their Caucasian colleagues. With such a high casualty rate, the families of many NHS and care home staff have been left bereaved with losses, which in many cases is the sole breadwinner.
To compensate such families for their losses and the sacrifices to the nation, the British Home Office has extended a bereavement scheme announced in April to benefit them. Now, the scheme, originally just introduced for nurses and doctors’ families has been extended to cover cleaners, porters and other low-paid health workers after pressure from the Labour Party and trade unions.
However, a free visa extension scheme still does not apply to support staff. This offer of indefinite leave to remain for bereaved families of support staff will be effective immediately and retrospectively, the Home Office said.
British home secretary Priti Patel, said: “Every death in this crisis is a tragedy and sadly some NHS support staff and social care workers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of saving the lives of others. When I announced the introduction of the bereavement scheme in April, I said we would continue to work across government to look at ways to offer further support, so today we are extending the scheme to NHS support staff and social care workers.”
Labour’s Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said her committee had been pushing on this for weeks, adding that it would be unthinkable to ask a family who lost a loved one on the UK Covid social care frontline to leave their home. However, However, she added that the government now needs to expand free visa extensions to cover care workers, NHS porters and care workers too.
In March, the Home Office brought in a one-year free visa extension for some staff in the NHS and care sectors. The list was initially limited to NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics and for those eligible, the extension covers visas which expire between 31 March and 1 October 2020.
Last month, Ms Patel extended the scheme to more NHS staff, including radiographers and social workers and said some social care staff would also benefit. However, the list does not include jobs like porters and cleaners.
However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected calls to scrap the fees overseas health workers have to pay to use the NHS. There is a health immigration surcharge on non-EU migrants of £400 per year and is set to rise to £624 in October but the Labour opposition says health workers should be exempt from it.