Hike in UK visa health surcharge ‘unfair, discriminatory’: Indian doctors demand withdrawal

Hike in UK visa health surcharge ‘unfair, discriminatory’: Indian doctors demand withdrawal

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A leading organisation representing Indian and international doctors has termed the hike in immigration health surcharge from £200 to £400 — payable at the time of applying for a UK visa — as “unfair and discriminatory”.

The surcharge is levied since April 2015 on Indian and non-EU citizens seeking a UK visa valid for at least six months. It is paid by all professionals, students and each of their family members per year of stay, in addition to the overall cost of a UK visa.

The Home Office announced in October that the current surcharge of £200 per person per year will increase to £400, with students and those on a youth mobility scheme paying a discounted rate of £300. It takes effect from January 8.

The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (Bapio) wrote to home secretary Sajid Javid, calling for the removal of what it called the “unfair and highly discriminatory tax”.

It added that the surcharge will deter Indian and other non-EU doctors from coming to the UK at a time of severe staff shortage in the National Health Service (NHS).

The surcharge is applicable to all non-EU professionals — not only doctors — and their family members. For example, a family of four moving to the UK will pay £1600 per year, besides other visa-related costs.

The surcharge is intended to meet part of the cost of any medical treatment the visa holders may need during their stay in the UK. It was levied amidst public furore over increasing strain on the National Health Service’s finances and its capacity to deliver.

Parag Singhal, Bapio national secretary, said: “This surcharge is unfair and discriminatory as it does not apply to EU nationals. The NHS is funded through income tax and national insurance contributions. Indian doctors pay all these taxes, so why this additional tax?”

“The Department of Health is keen to get Indian doctors but this surcharge sends a wrong message. Bapio will liaise with other organisations and launch a nationwide campaign against this discriminatory tax,” he said.

Britain has long depended on doctors from India to run the NHS since it was founded in 1948. Bapio has been coordinating with British health authorities to meet NHS shortages by recruiting from India on an ‘Earn, Learn and Return’ basis.

“We believe a further charge of £200 per head is unfair and discriminatory. NHS is finding it difficult to recruit and retain staff; such measures by the Home Office will further deter high quality international medical graduates to come and work for the NHS,” Bapio wrote to Javid.

The Home Office had said that it is only right that people who come to the UK should contribute to the running of the NHS.

“The surcharge offers access to health care services that are far more comprehensive and at a much lower cost than many other countries. The income generated goes directly to NHS services, helping to protect and sustain our world-class healthcare system for everyone who uses it,” it said.__Hindustan Times

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