Families of care workers who die from coronavirus can now stay in UK after Home Office climbdown
Priti Patel revealed the Home Office was making the climbdown (PA)
The families of NHS care workers and cleaners who die on the coronavirus frontline will be allowed to stay in the UK after a major climbdown from the Home Office.
The department caused anger after it emerged relatives of those staff were exempt from a bereavement scheme to support the loved ones and dependents of migrant workers killed tackling the pandemic.
An email to the GMB union this week said the offer of indefinite leave to remain only applied to certain occupations including nurses, radiographers and biochemists.
The decision to not include care staff, hospital cleaners or porters was branded “heartless”, and Labour said “claps and thank yous are simply not enough” for those bereaved families.
But Home Secretary Priti Patel revealed the scheme is now being extended, with the offer to stay in Britain forever, free of charge, becoming effective immediately and retrospectively.
She said: “Every death in this crisis is a tragedy, and sadly some NHS support staff and social care workers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of saving the lives of others.
“When I announced the introduction of the bereavement scheme in April, I said we would continue to work across government to look at ways to offer further support.
"Today we are extending the scheme to NHS support staff and social care workers.
“We want to ensure families have the support they need and so this will be effective immediately and retrospectively.”
Responding to the move, Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper said it was "very good news that the Government has finally agreed to extend the bereavement scheme to the families of social care workers and NHS support staff who die on the front line".
She added: "It would be unthinkable to ask a family who had lost a loved one as a result of caring for people with Covid-19 to leave their home and the country when they have already given so much to the UK fighting against this awful virus.
“But it is still very unfair that those low paid workers are not included in the free visa extension. I hope the Home Office will now listen to everyone’s concerns and change course on this too. Why should those who care for and transport vulnerable patients and scrub the floors and door handles of the Covid wards be excluded from the NHS visa extension scheme?"
It comes after Boris Johnson confirmed the Government would not be removing the charge on NHS staff from overseas to get treatment.
At Prime Minister’s Questions the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said many care workers are "risking their lives" during the Covid-19 pandemic, but warned for someone earning the minimum wage they would have to work for 70 hours to pay off the fee.
It is currently at £400 a year but is due to rise to £624 from October.
The Prime Minister said: "I've thought a great deal about this and I do accept and understand the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff and, like him, I've been a personal beneficiary of carers who have come from abroad and, frankly, saved my life.
“On the other hand, we must look at the realities, this is a great national service, it’s a national institution, it needs funding, and those contributions actually help us to raise about £900million and it’s very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources.
“With great respect to the point that he makes, I think that is the right way forward.”
Ms Cooper said on Wednesday evening: “The Government should now expand free visa extensions and waive the immigration health surcharge for care workers and low-paid NHS staff too.
"Making the lowest paid NHS and care workers pay thousands of pounds and wrestle with the UK immigration system while they are working to care for and support UK residents in the midst of this coronavirus crisis is unfair and wrong. I urge the Government to think again on this one too."