Immigration (Health Charge) (Amendment) Order 2020 - Motion to Approve

– in the House of Lords at 5:09 pm on 23rd September 2020.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford:

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

That the draft Order laid before the House on 21 July be approved.

Relevant document: 24th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, as we have all witnessed during this pandemic, our National Health Service is one of our country’s greatest assets. It has been a shining beacon of hope in this time of need and we could not be prouder of it. For those who live in the UK, it is the contributions made over the course of their lives that enable our NHS to continue its fantastic work.

We value the contribution of everyone who comes to the United Kingdom. It is a simple fact, however, that temporary migrants will not have built up the same contributions as a permanent resident of the UK. We therefore believe it is right that they make a fair contribution to the NHS’s sustainability. That is why we introduced the immigration health charge in April 2015. The charge is currently paid by non-European Economic Area temporary migrants who apply for a visa for more than six months. It also applies if they wish to extend their stay in the UK for a further limited period. The charge is separate from the visa fee and is paid up front and in full for the length of leave granted.

From their point of arrival in the UK, a charge payer can access NHS services in broadly the same manner as permanent residents. This can be without ever having made any tax or national insurance contributions in the UK. They pay only those charges a UK resident would pay, such as prescription charges in England. They may also be charged for assisted conception services in England, should they choose to use them. To date, the charge has raised more than £1.5 billion for the NHS. This much-needed income is shared between the health administrations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, using the formula devised by Lord Barnett.

As noble Lords will all be aware, next year the new points-based system will be in place. This means that all migrants to the UK will be treated the same and will pay the charge if staying for longer than six months. The current exemptions, including for certain vulnerable groups, will continue to apply.

The Government recognise the value and importance of migration. We welcome talented individuals and are immensely grateful for the contribution they make to this country. However, it is only right that migrants contribute to the wide range of NHS services available to them.

Last year, the Government’s manifesto committed to increasing the annual amount of the charge to a level that would broadly reflect the cost of treating those who pay it. In line with that commitment, this order amends Schedule 1 to the Immigration (Health Charge) Order 2015. The Department of Health and Social Care has estimated that the cost to the NHS of treating charge payers in England is £625 per person, based on analysis carried out in April 2019, which used 2017-18 NHS England data. To support the administration of the charge, the new level would be set at £624 per person per year. As before, students, dependants of students and youth mobility scheme applicants would pay a discounted rate. This would increase from £300 to £470 per person.

The Government are aware the charge has a greater financial impact on family groups than on individual applicants. To support families, a new, lower rate would be introduced for those under the age of 18. This would be set at £470 and would be in line with the rate for students and those on the youth mobility scheme.

The Government are committed to supporting our NHS and health and social care workers, not least because of the vital role they have played during this pandemic. In May, the Prime Minister asked the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care to work together to exempt these workers from the immigration health charge. This order amends Schedule 2 to the principal order to provide an exemption for tier 2 general health and care visa applicants and their dependants. The tier 2 general health and care visa is for eligible health professionals, including doctors, nurses and allied health workers. These are people working in the NHS, for organisations commissioned by the NHS to provide essential services and in the adult social care sector.

The visa was launched on 4 August. It is a fast-track visa, offered with reduced application fees. Until such time as a formal exemption is in place for this group, the Secretary of State has waived the requirement to pay the health charge. In addition, tier 2 migrants who paid the health charge on or after 31 March 2020 but who would have qualified for the new health and care visa had it been in operation at this time, are being refunded.

Migrants who work in the NHS and wider health and care sector and who paid the charge on or after the 31 March, but who do not qualify for the health and care visa, may be eligible for reimbursement of the charge. On 15 July, the Minister for Health announced that this scheme will be launched in October. More details will be published by the Department of Health and Social Care shortly.

Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that the NHS is properly funded. The health charge is designed to benefit the NHS and to support its long-term sustainability. We are indebted to overseas health and care professionals and it is right that they are exempt from the charge or have their payment reimbursed. For those migrants who come to the UK to work in non-healthcare related roles, it is only right that they should continue to pay towards our health service through the health charge. The government manifesto, as voted for by the public, committed to increasing this charge. The order delivers that commitment and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.