The NHS could end up having to foot the bill for an immigration surcharge imposed on foreign visitors to limit their impact on the NHS when it recruits nurses from overseas, it has emerged.
The Immigration Bill is currently passing through Parliament and proposes a fee be payable by all immigrants from outside the European Economic Area who are given a temporary visas for more than six months before they enter the country.
Payment of the fee would then allow them to access health services free at the point of use. The level of fee payable has yet to be revealed, although it has been speculated it could amount to £200 per person.
The disclosure of the fee emerged in a letter from Dean Royles, chief executive of NHS Employers, to Phillip Duffy, director of immigration and border policy at the Home Office.
The Royal College of Nursing has warned migrant nurses working in the NHS could be forced to pay to access care.
However, Mr Royles said it was more likely the NHS would foot the bill as trusts tended to offer to refund individuals for fees and charges related to coming to the UK as part of the recruitment package.
He said: “Although policy does not prescribe this to happen, we are concerned that in reality, NHS organisations could end up paying for this additional surcharge as part of the reward package to encourage skilled professionals to join their NHS trust.”
A recent investigation by HSJ’s sister title Nursing Times found more than a third of the 105 acute trusts that responded to a Freedom of Information request had actively recruited nurses from overseas. Many of these came from the Far East.
Mr Royles said the NHS was probably one of the UK’s most diverse organisations and benefited greatly from the expertise of black and minority ethnic staff.
Chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “While we certainly want to see NHS resources used appropriately, the health levy proposed by the Immigration Bill would penalise the many temporary migrants who are working and paying tax in the UK.
“This is especially unfair considering that many migrants are already contributing to the NHS by working in the health service.”
The college also warned the proposal could have “serious implications” for public health if it deterred migrants from seeking healthcare.
Immigration minister Mark Harper said: “The government is building a fairer immigration system which addresses the concerns of hardworking people. The Immigration Bill will tighten immigration law, strengthen our enforcement powers and clamp down on those from overseas who try to abuse our public services.
“We have been clear that the UK has a national health service, not an international health service. These proposals will ensure that migrants here temporarily make a fair contribution to the cost of health services in the UK.”