UNISON has welcomed news that health and care workers from oversees, and their families, whose visas are due to expire before 1 October will have them automatically extended for free.
This will apply to staff in the NHS and independent sector and will include their family members.
The government has also confirmed that family members and dependants of healthcare workers who pass away as result of contracting the virus will be offered indefinite leave to remain.
The move followed representation from UNISON and pressure across the service.
“We’re pleased to see gaps in the visa extension scheme filled,” said the union’s head of health Sara Goton.
“We’ll continue to work with allies to push for changes to the Home Office approach to immigration rules for the future, but this extension will save additional worry for thousands of staff currently involved in the COVID-19 response.”
UNISON had also raised concerns over the desparate situation of the families of staff from overseas who have died of COVID-19.
“Not only were these families struggling with losing a loved one,” noted Ms Gorton, “but they faced the added problem that their immigration status was dependent upon their deceased relative.
“We are really pleased to see that these families have been granted immediate and indefinite leave to remain – nothing can bring back their loved ones, but at least these families will be spared potential deportation.”
National officer Narmada Thiranagama described the move as “a very welcome step forward, which recognises the vital role played by our overseas worker colleagues in both social care and the NHS.”
However, she added that the “Home Office needs to be proactive about getting the administration for these visa extensions done for these workers.
“Leaving it to employers – NHS trusts and social care employers – to notify the government of who needs this extension puts added pressure on the frontline.”
Ms Thiranagama said: “We have also been contacted by members who don’t work for the NHS or social care but are providing vital services and who are struggling to renew their visas because the Home Office services are being affected by the shutdown.
“We’d urge the Home Office to tackle this as their next urgent priority.”