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Overseas pharmacists included in fast-track health worker visa

Overseas pharmacists will be eligible for a fast-track new health and care visa that will also exempt them from the immigration health surcharge, the government has said.

Pharmacists are among the health professionals who will be able to apply for the health and care visa from August, home secretary Priti Patel and health secretary Matt Hancock said when announcing the scheme earlier this week (July 14).

Health professionals applying for the visa can “expect a decision on whether they can work in the UK within just three weeks” and will pay lower visa application fee than other professionals categorised as skilled workers.

Immigration health surcharge

The immigration health surcharge that otherwise forms part of the application process will be waived as part of the health and care visa, the government said. Those working in health and social care but who are not eligible for the visa can still claim the immigration health surcharge amount back “if they have paid this on or after March 31”, the government said.

Dependants of those applying for the health and care visa will also be exempt from the immigration health surcharge.

Commenting on the announcement, Mr Hancock said that “the reimbursement of the immigration health surcharge recognises the enormous contribution of those who have come to the UK to work in health and social care”, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m incredibly proud of our health and care workforce and look forward to welcoming new professionals from across the globe to continue the fantastic work to ensure our health system remains the best in the world,” he added.

Legislation will be required to implement the health and care visa and the health surcharge exemption, with the government stating that the legislative changes “needed to open this new route will be laid in parliament today [July 14]”.

Remove health surcharge

Mr Hancock had already announced plans to exempt health and social care staff from the immigration health surcharge – which is expected to increase from £400 a year to £624 from October 2020 – “as soon as possible” at a press briefing on May 21.

The government said in its statement this week that it had begun “refunding immigration health surcharge payments for any healthcare professionals on tier 2 visas who have paid since March 31and this process will continue”.

However, while welcoming the announcement that overseas pharmacists are on the list of professions eligible for the health and care visa, Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Sandra Gidley said further government action is still needed.

“Nearly two months after we were told health and care workers would be exempt, overseas pharmacists are still being asked to pay when they apply for a visa and it’s no clearer how they can ask for a refund. The government needs to fix this now, “she said.

What do you make of this announcement?

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