New Clause 14 - Immigration health surcharge: exemption for international volunteers

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 4 November 2021.

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Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 2:00, 4 November 2021

The Government recognise the important contribution that international volunteers make to our communities, and are committed to attracting people from overseas who wish to gain experience of our voluntary sector. The temporary work-charity worker visa is available to those who wish to undertake unpaid voluntary fieldwork for up to 12 months, where the work contributes directly to the achievement or advancement of the sponsor’s charitable purpose. The route offers volunteers the chance to experience life in the UK while making a valuable contribution to the aims of their chosen charity. At the same time, the involvement and contribution of these individuals has benefits for the UK charity sector and the wider community, and the UK Government welcome this involvement.

This is not an economic route and it should not be used to fill gaps in the labour market. Volunteers using the charity worker visa must not receive any payment beyond being reimbursed for expenses incurred during their duties. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect costs to be considered and planned for before they apply for a visa. As this is a temporary work category, the cost of a visa is already significantly less than any other work and study routes, at a rate of £244, and sponsors pay a lower licence fee, which reflects their own charity status. The immigration health charge, which applies to this route, ensures that temporary migrants who come to the UK for more than six months make a direct contribution to the comprehensive range of NHS services available to them during their stay. Income from the charge is shared between the health administrations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, using the formula devised by Lord Barnett. The charge is an essential part of income for the NHS and has raised almost £2 billion in much-needed income since it was introduced in 2015.

Those who make an application to come to the UK for six months or less do not pay the charge, and we know that a sizeable number of volunteers come for less than the 12 months the route allows. If they opt to stay longer than six months, however, it is right that they pay the charge, as is consistent with others who base themselves in the UK for extended periods. I understand that there are concerns about the financial impact of the charge on volunteer workers, alongside visa fees and other payments that a person may make when they choose to come to the UK. However, the Government are clear that the charge is great value, considering the wide range of NHS services, free at the point of use, for charge payers. From the moment they arrive in the UK, charge payers can use the NHS in broadly the same manner as a permanent resident, without having made any prior tax or national insurance contributions. They may access health services as often as they need, including treatment for pre-existing health conditions, and do not need to worry about unexpected health charges or obtaining appropriate health insurance.