5 April 2015
Temporary migrants have been costing the NHS billions of pounds in recent years and new legislation due to come on stream on 6 April 2015 will seek to claw back much of the money in question by levying a mandatory migrant health surcharge on all nationals from outside the EEA who wish to enter the UK for more than six months. New measures will affect those applying for a UK settlement partner or spouse visa to join their family in the UK on a permanent basis. There will be an additional charge of £200 per year. This payment must be made at the time of application and must cover the entire length of stay for which permission is requested, i.e. 33 months for applications made from outside the UK (unmarried partner, civil partnership and spousal visas) and 30 months for ‘in country’ further leave to remain (FLRm) applications. Dependants will pay the same amount as the principal applicant.
Why the change?
It has been estimated that the calls on the NHS by foreign nationals every year comes to around £2 billion, with £950 million of that being spent specifically on temporary, non-EEA workers and students. The migrant surcharge will be paid by all non-EEA applicants entering the country on a partner or marriage visa as such visas are typically valid for more than six months. It will also now be asked of those who are already in the UK applying to extend their stay after 6 April 2015. Non-EEA visitors will not have to pay the new NHS health surcharge but will be liable, as now, for the full costs of any treatment they received from the NHS. The Minister for Immigration and Social Security, James Brokenshire, has pointed out that in fact the surcharge represents only 1% of what a student on a three year course would pay in fees so it is not really an onerous sum.
Other changes in the pipeline
Although not yet finalised, there are also plans to charge non-EEA visitors who use the NHS 150% of the cost. At the moment, they pay the actual cost of treatment but the extra 50% which will be levied will help to offset the losses made every year when managing the administration alone of treating foreign patients. The Health Minister, Lord Howe, clarified the position by explaining that the surcharge is the equivalent of the taxes paid by UK citizens to cover their NHS care. Lord Howe went on, ‘The Act [the Immigration Act of 2014] is a landmark piece of legislation which builds on the government’s ongoing reforms to make sure the immigration system works in the national interest’.
Where will the money go?
The money which is collected will be redirected to the NHS across the UK and will be used to buy vital services which are currently not being provided through lack of funds. With the intended 150% charge for services at point of use also coming in later in the year, the drain on the NHS by foreign nationals will hopefully cease. The removal of the idea of ‘free’ health care in the UK will also mean that fewer people will come here with serious health issues because it will no longer make financial sense for them, reducing waiting times and other logjams in the NHS service which have become very serious in some areas.
Can people with private health insurance refuse to pay?
The rules are quite clear on what the new NHS health surcharge is for and the UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) guidelines clearly state that no matter what personal private arrangements a person has made, the surcharge will still be levied. This is in line with how private medical insurance is considered for permanent residents and British citizens because no one is given a tax refund to reflect the fact that they have provision privately for their health care. The migrant surcharge is not payable by certain special groups. If a person is entering the country temporarily on an intra-company transfer they are still notionally liable for the surcharge but in fact, on application, will be given a specific and unique number which will result in the figure being calculated as ‘nil’. Australian and New Zealand citizens entering on a temporary visa will also not have to pay the surcharge, because of a reciprocal arrangement covering the health care of UK citizens visiting those countries.
Is the NHS health surcharge refundable?
Unlike most of the fees on application for a UK settlement partner or spouse visa, the health surcharge is refundable if the application is denied. This refund will be automatic on refusal and does not imply that other fees will be paid back in the event of an unsuccessful application. This is because the surcharge is to pay for possible outlay on the part of the NHS as opposed to other fees which are to cover things such as looking into the validity of documents provided and other administrative tasks.