OPINION
29/07/2020 16:11 BST | Updated 29/07/2020 16:23 BST

It's Time For The UK To Shout Loudly That Foreign NHS Workers Are Welcome Here

Shamefully, hundreds of thousands of the foreign nationals serving across the NHS have no guarantee of their future in this country, Christine Jardine writes.

There can surely be few, if any, of us who have not lain awake at some point over the past few months worrying about our own or our loved ones’ health.

Have not felt enormous gratitude for the so many incredible heroes who have put their own health on the line, spent time away from their families, worked ridiculous hours, far too often without adequate protective gear, to save lives.

Whenever we talk about this incredible service of the heroes working in our NHS and social care during this awful crisis, there’s one question that we keep coming back to: how can we ever thank them enough?

How can we truly show our enormous gratitude for the way they’ve put themselves at risk and endured gruelling, exhausting shifts to keep us safe?

We have clapped for them on Thursday evenings. The Queen’s birthday honours list was rightly postponed until the autumn so it can include these coronavirus heroes.

And the Liberal Democrats have called for more: an extra daily allowance to recognise the heightened risks – similar to the Armed Forces – and a Coronavirus Service Medal.

But in truth none of that even comes close to being enough to thank them for the brave and tireless work they are doing in such difficult circumstances and under such intense pressure. 

All of us in the UK should say, loudly and unequivocally, that those who have put their lives at risk for us and our loved ones are welcome to live here.

Particularly for one group who work those long hours, in difficult circumstances under intense pressure and without knowing whether they have a future in this country.

Shamefully, that’s the case for hundreds of thousands of the foreign nationals serving in our hospitals, our care homes and elsewhere across the health and care sector.

They are putting themselves in harm’s way so that we can have the care we need.

The pandemic makes no exceptions in the threat it poses to those on the frontline, and we should make no difference in how this country supports them either.

The government’s announcement of a one-year visa extension for around 3,000 health workers with visas due to expire before October is not enough. It provides us with care, but does not offer them the security they surely deserve in return.

What is worse is that it not only excludes many of those on the frontlines, such as hospital porters, cleaners and social care staff, but also leaves even those who are included still having to pay around £700 each to renew their visas next year.

That is not good enough.

All of us in the UK should say, loudly and unequivocally, that those who have put their lives at risk for us and our loved ones are welcome to live here.

The idea that anyone who has worked tirelessly to save lives during this emergency, worked in the service of this country, might one day be forced to leave should be unthinkable. 

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That’s why I have tabled a Bill calling for that service to be recognised by offering them indefinite leave to remain.

It is why the Liberal Democrats are campaigning to give all NHS and care staff from other countries the right to stay in the UK.

It’s time the government did the fair thing and granted them and their families the right to settle here, without any of the fees or Home Office bureaucracy that usually involves.

I’m delighted that we’ve already secured support from across the political spectrum for this campaign. When I wrote to the Home Secretary with these proposals back in April, more than 60 cross-party MPs signed the letter.

Surely, the government must listen to that consensus and act?

It would be a small way to recognise and celebrate the immeasurable contributions that people from all over the world make to our NHS – and to our society, our economy and our communities across the country.

But more than that it would allow us to honour the enormous debt we owe to those who have cared for us so heroically during this pandemic.

And who, when we lay awake worrying, we knew were there for us.

Christine Jardine is Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West.