A scheme to allow the families of immigrant health workers who die after contracting coronavirus to stay in the United Kingdom had been widely criticised for excluding dependents of support staff, until a government u-turn on Wednesday.
The bereaved families will no longer face deportation, and will be granted indefinite leave to remain,
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The move followed criticism that care workers, cleaners and porters had been left out of the scheme, which only applied to certain occupations including nurses, biochemists and radiographers.
The extension of the scheme, which was originally announced last month, will be effective immediately and retrospectively, the Home Office confirmed.
“Every death in this crisis is a tragedy, and sadly some NHS support staff and social care workers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of saving the lives of others,” said Home Secretary Priti Patel.
“When I announced the introduction of the bereavement scheme in April, I said we would continue to work across government to look at ways to offer further support. Today, we are extending the scheme to NHS support staff and social care workers.
“We want to ensure families have the support they need and so this will be effective immediately and retrospectively.”
NHS England’s national medical director, Stephen Powis, told the daily Downing Street news conference there were a “huge number of people working behind the scenes” in hospitals.
“All I can say is, as a doctor who has worked on the front line for many years, how much I value the entire multidisciplinary teams – so everybody – from porter to manager to administrator to nurse – who absolutely work together as a team in managing this sort of crisis but also in the day-to-day care that the NHS provides.
“It’s often the doctors and nurses who are at the front and get the praise but believe me there are a huge number of people working behind the scenes.”
The news came as Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, raised concerns about care workers and low-paid NHS staff not being included in the Home Office’s free visa extension scheme.
“It is really disappointing to get confirmation from the Home Secretary that care workers and low-paid NHS staff are not included in the free visa extension scheme even though we had asked the government to rethink,” said Cooper.
“This means care workers applying to renew their visas along with the NHS surcharge could end up paying thousands and thousands of pounds.
“Asking them to do this as they stand on the UK front line against coronavirus, caring for and supporting people, and putting their own health at risk feels deeply unfair.”
Last month, the government said it was expanding a scheme to help NHS workers so that migrant midwives, social workers, pharmacists and other front-line health staff would be granted free visa extensions for a year.
All visas for the health workers in question which are due to expire before October 1 will be automatically renewed for a year.
The Home Office said it “will apply to those working both in the NHS and independent sector and include their family members”.
Those who qualify will also be exempt from the immigration health surcharge during the extension.
But the measures are unlikely to extend to carers working in small private care homes because the Home Office said such staff were more likely to be working in the country on a long-term visa, which allows them to work, rather than having a time-limited shorter-term sponsored work visa.
In Scotland, where the devolved government has taken a different approach on many coronavirus-related issues to the central UK administration in London, unpaid carers are to receive a cash boost, while new legislation will ensure companies based in tax havens will not receive bailouts from public funds.
Approximately 83,000 Scots who receive the Carer’s Allowance will get a supplementary payment of 230.20 pounds ($280) in June. Meanwhile, a social care support fund for care workers who suffer a loss of income because of the disease will also be established.
Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “The work of rebuilding absolutely gives us an opportunity to decide what kind of society and what kind of economy we want to build.”