Immigration and Nationality Application Fees — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:04 pm on 25th March 2021.

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Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 2:04 pm, 25th March 2021

I thank my hon. Friend Meg Hillier for securing this debate. I know that she shares my sincere admiration for the tireless dedication shown by our frontline doctors, nurses and carers over the last year. Our treasured NHS truly is the pride of our nation.

I was shaken to hear St Helier hospital staff on “Channel Four News” in January comparing their wards with war zones. A critical incident over Christmas had resulted in the hospital diverting patients to Kingston Hospital and St George’s Hospital, because they were using more oxygen than the vaporiser could deliver. The staff at St Helier hospital are doing a remarkable job, but they face the most testing of circumstances.

So earlier this month I joined nurses from the Royal College of Nursing on a call to hear about their experience. I met Kathryn and today I will tell her story. Kathryn is an NHS nurse from the Philippines. Staff from her NHS trust flew out to her country six years ago to recruit dozens of nurses, sponsoring their initial three-year working visas. For Kathryn, moving almost 7,000 miles away from her family meant the opportunity to support her family. We invited her here to do an essential job that puts her at risk of losing her life, but Minister, we then charge her excessively for that privilege.

Every three years, Kathryn faces a new £1,000 visa fee. She was one of the lucky ones whose employers covered her health surcharge, a cost that has soared to hundreds of pounds for her peers. Receiving just an entry-level salary, Kathryn sends as much money back home as she can afford, and supporting her family became even more important when her mum was hospitalised earlier this year.

After almost six years in the UK, Kathryn is now able to apply for indefinite leave to remain, but the clock is ticking and she needs to save the £2,500 required before her visa renewal is due this winter. If she cannot save enough money in time, she pays a fresh cost of £1,000 to renew her visa and she will have to start saving again from scratch. But how can she save when she earns so little? Every penny is vital and Kathryn resorted to withdrawing from the NHS pension scheme before the pandemic. Maybe the Minister can see why the 1% pay rise is a bit of a kick in the teeth.

Then along came covid. Kathryn was redeployed to the accident and emergency department, facing intolerable pressure, but so many of us owe our lives to A&E staff. One of her colleagues lost his life. He was just 33 and the breadwinner for his parents back home. He had worked to ensure that they could afford to send his siblings to school. In his memory and without using his own funds, his colleagues had to collect enough money to be able to send his ashes home. With no NHS pension scheme and consequently no death in service benefit, Kathryn came to work every day worrying how she would be buried if she were to die.

Asking people from poorer countries to help run our NHS is not new, but charging them large amounts of money for the privilege is. So I say to the Minister: Kathryn risks her life at our invitation and is charged exploitative costs to do so. Does he really think that is right or fair? Why should her sacrifice cost her so much?