Coronavirus: More bereaved families of NHS staff can stay in UK

Posters in building near St Thomas' Hospital in central LondonImage copyright
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The families of overseas NHS support staff and care workers who have lost relatives to coronavirus can stay in the UK permanently.

The Home Office bereavement scheme had previously only applied to certain professions, such as nurses.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has extended it to cover cleaners, porters and other low-paid roles after pressure from Labour and the unions.

But a free visa extension scheme still does not apply to support staff.

The offer of indefinite leave to remain for bereaved families of support staff will be effective immediately and retrospectively, the Home Office said.

Ms Patel said: “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.

“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.”

The announcement was welcomed as “very good news” by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons home affairs committee.

She said her committee had been “pushing on this for weeks” adding on Twitter that it would be “unthinkable to ask family who lost a loved one on the UK Covid social care frontline to leave their home & UK”.

But she said the government now needed to expand free visa extensions to cover care workers, NHS porters and care workers too.

In March, the Home Office brought in a one-year free visa extension for some staff in the NHS and care sectors.

The list was initially limited to NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics.

For those eligible, the extension covers visas which expire between 31 March and 1 October 2020.

Last month, Priti Patel extended the scheme to more NHS staff, including radiographers and social workers, and said some social care staff would also benefit.

But the list does not include jobs like porters and cleaners.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also rejected calls from Labour and the SNP to scrap the fees overseas health workers have to pay to use the NHS.

The health immigration surcharge on non-EU migrants is £400 per year and set to rise to £624 in October – but the opposition says health workers should be exempt from it.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said he understood the “difficulties” NHS staff faced but the country could not afford to scrap the charges in the current economic climate.

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