It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I had no notice whatever of having to trim my speech down to four and a half minutes, but thank you all the same.
I thank Meg Hillier for initiating this debate on such an important and timely topic, and one that is close to my heart—I declare as an interest that my partner is from the Philippines and is intrinsically involved in the situation that we are debating today.
I am interested in looking at the situation from a very specific point of view. Typically in this country, we use the word “hero” far too casually. It is often lavished on our celebrities and sports stars, and although I am sure that they are very deserving, I think that this pandemic has shown us who the true heroes are in this country—the workers in our NHS. The entire NHS has played a vital role, but our thanks and gratitude go, in particular, to those NHS workers who have come from other countries—individuals who have travelled huge distances to be here and often separated themselves from their families, who have been putting their own lives at risk to help and save our lives, the lives of citizens from a different country to their own. But regardless of their or our citizenship, their duty and responsibility to care for and contribute to the wellbeing of others comes first for those people. That is absolutely amazing and should be highly commended.
I welcome the many steps that the Government have taken for foreign NHS workers, but we need to go further. As the hon. Lady has already been through the fees and costs, I will not expatiate on those at this time, but I would like to set out the real-life case of Carrie. I am using a different name for her, but it is a real-life case all the same.
In 2016, Carrie moved to the UK, leaving her husband and four-year-old child back at home in south Asia. It took another year for her to be able to bring her husband and daughter here, because of the cost involved in getting a dependant’s visa. They could be together as a family again only by taking out a loan, which she had to pay for over three years. Three years after she arrived and so with one more year of loan payments still to go, she had to get another loan and compound her obvious cash-flow problems, because she was due for her visa renewal and so had a load more fees on top of the ones that she had already paid.
This year, in 2021, Carrie is entitled to apply for indefinite leave to remain—five years in—with loans still ongoing from previous renewals, and the ILR more expensive again. So what does she do? What options are available to Carrie? Her only choice is to apply for another loan, even bigger than before, to have the right to occupy a space in the UK and call it home. She pays her taxes every month and has done for years. Oh and by the way, she works in an intensive care unit—she has spent the past five years saving lives, especially in the past 12 months. She should not be in debt; we are indebted to her.
It is our duty to create a new route to citizenship for NHS workers—one that will not leave workers in debt, poverty and constant worry about funding their next application a few years down the line—by reducing by at least half and, in time, abolishing completely the costs associated with applying for indefinite leave to remain and citizenship for our NHS workers. I am proud that our amazing NHS attracts such global talent and recruits from around the world. Frankly, we would not be able to run it without them. As of last year, more than 160,000 NHS staff stated that they were of a non-British nationality; they were from more than 200 different countries. That is nearly 15% of all staff for whom a nationality is known. But the current fees and processes are a huge barrier to both future NHS workers, who are putting off coming to the UK to fill our many vacancies, and to current NHS workers, who cannot afford the final step and have the permanent residency that they have earned through their service to our country.
Citizenship is not about cost. It should be about contribution and inclusion in our communities. NHS workers have perhaps given the biggest contribution of all: saving our lives and keeping us safe. Despite being valued members of the communities in which they live and work, without being citizens they cannot be fully part of them. Without indefinite leave to remain, there are barriers to home ownership, to the jobs market and in higher education.
Research shows that newly naturalised immigrants not only benefit our society, but it benefits them too, with citizens seeing rising wages and better employment opportunities as well as becoming more likely to engage in civil and political activities. Let us treat these people better so that they can finally feel like they belong and are welcomed with open arms.