MPs warned of gaps in plan to extend NHS workers’ visas | UK news

Immigration experts have told MPs that Home Office proposals to extend visas for NHS staff do not apply to as many workers as initially thought, have no legal backing and have been poorly communicated.

Adrian Berry, the chair of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, and Colin Yeo, an immigration barrister and the founder of the Free Movement website, told the home affairs select committee there was no clarity over the plans announced on 31 March.

The Home Office said 2,800 frontline NHS workers whose visas are due to expire before 1 October would have them extended for a year free of charge so that those workers could “focus on fighting coronavirus”.

But Berry told the committee the plans appeared to cover only holders of tier 2 visas – general work permits – and not those working on family reunion visas, and nor did they apply to porters, healthcare assistants or cleaners.

“One of the problems that emerged is that the Home Office policy on extending leave to remain for such persons … initially appeared to include everybody working in the NHS but then subsequently looks as if it has been limited to those on tier 2 visas – work permit visas, in other words – and not family reunion visas or other things,” Berry said.

“It may also be restricted to certain types of work in the NHS – for example, doctors and nurses – and not those, for example, like hospital porters and others who do essential jobs in the National Health Service.”

Berry said the changes were not backed in law and he recommended that the government use a statutory instrument – secondary legislation that does not require a new act of parliament – to ensure NHS workers were not inadvertently breaching visa conditions.

Berry said the only communications on the changes were online notices that had changed several times.

​Yeo said:​ “Some of the announcements we’ve seen are for automatic grants of leave. There’s some doubt in the legal community over whether that actually works as a matter of law because the legislation seems to require personalised written notice to be given to people to extend their leave or for there to be a statutory instrument.”

​The chair of the committee, Yvette Cooper, said the revelations were “disturbing”​. The Home Office has been approached for comment.

Tim Loughton, a member of the committee, said: “The general understanding has been that the government has granted a blanket extension to all NHS workers whose visas are due to come up for October 1st.

“What you’re saying, to be clear, is: one, it’s not clear that it’s all NHS workers; it may just be limited to tier 2 visas. Secondly, even for those who do qualify on that basis, there’s no legal backing for those protections without a statutory instrument at the very least, so they could find themselves inadvertently in good faith having accepted that extension when in fact they have no legal basis still to be here after their visa expires.

“And thirdly no formal instructions have been issued by the Home Office to professionals and others dealing in this field to say exactly what the situation is.”

Berry replied: “It’s a good summary.”

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