England is currently in it’s second lockdown of the year, with the second wave of Coronavirus hitting the nation. The country is in the second week of its four week lockdown, which is intended to act as a pre-christmas ‘circuit breaker’ in an attempt to stop the current rapidly increasing spread of COVID-19. People across the country are hopeful that the current lockdown will end on its intended date of 2nd December, but it will ultimately be up to the UK Prime Minister and MP’s on wether Lockdown 2.0 will be extended.
Like the first UK lockdown, the current lockdown in England is putting many individuals at risk, including those who have had to shut businesses, are out of work and receiving lower wages on furlough, those who are in difficult positions at home, or those who are sleeping rough on the streets. The first UK lockdown caused significant issues for many individuals living in the UK under visas, who faced the deadline of their visa expiring before the lockdown ended, and before borders opened again. In these instances earlier in the year, we saw individuals being granted a grace period after their visas had expired, allowing them the safety of being able to stay in the United Kingdom, without the risk of crossing borders when COVID-19 levels were so high across the world.
In lockdown two, however, the visa rules for individuals on immigration visas have not been quite so lenient. With no grace period, many individuals who are struggling to renew their visas due to delays and a significant backlog of requests, are having to either overstay their visas, scoring their records and risking their ability to renew their visas further down the line, or return back to their home countries, uprooting their lives in the UK and risking travelling while many borders are closed and a global pandemic continues. This visa rule is forcing migrants from all sectors to return to their home countries, notably also those working in the healthcare industry. Many charities have already pointed out that the UK government are forcing healthcare workers out of the UK at a time when the country may need them most, whilst also stopping new trained healthcare workers from entering the country.
The UK healthcare sector currently has 122,000 vacancies in England, many of them in critical NHS positions. Now is not the time to be stopping healthcare workers on immigration visas from entering, or remaining in the UK. Especially when the country is at such a crucial period when it comes to tackling the second wave of COVID-19. Having these additional staff members working within the healthcare sector and filling under filled positions may be the countries best hope in continuing to combat the virus before the peak becomes too high.
Many UK organisations have already called for migrant healthcare workers to be granted indefinite leave to remain, commenting that the delays in visa processing are causing significant problems, not only for the sector, but for individuals. It is noted that currently, 1,660 doctors and other healthcare workers have signed a letter on the subject.
Earlier this year the Home Office announced that NHS and care workers whose visas were due to expire in the next few months would have them extended for a year free of charge so they could “focus on fighting coronavirus”. However, this concession only applied to about 3,000 workers, and left out thousands of care workers and NHS staff including low paid healthcare assistants, hospital cleaners and porters.
During such a crucial period, the United Kingdom and the UK government should be doing more to protect migrant healthcare workers, who are making such a difference in the countries’ crucial fight against COVID-19.