Anti-racists vowed to step up the fight against NHS charges for migrants after Tory prime minister Boris Johnson was forced into a humiliating U-turn.
The Tory government said it would scrap the NHS surcharge for migrant health and care workers last week.
Up to now migrants from outside the European Union have had to pay £400 a year on top of already high visa fees. This is due to rise again to £623 from October—and will be extended to all migrants during the Brexit transition period.
Boris Johnson defended the surcharge at prime minister’s question time on Wednesday of last week.
He justified the absurdity of overseas NHS workers being charged to use the health service where they work, claiming it raised some £900 million to fund a “national institution”.
In reality, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tank says the surcharge brings in closer to £90 million.
Yet by Friday of last week, Johnson had instructed the Home Office to “remove NHS and care workers from the surcharge as soon as possible”.
The Tories faced mounting pressure as they praised migrant health workers as heroes and yet still charged them.
Weyman Bennett is the co-convenor of Stand Up To Racism (SUTR), which has planned #ScrapTheSurcharge actions in the coming weeks.
He said that the “U-turn is a consequence of the exposure of racism amongst the ranks of the highest elements of our government”.
“The surcharge was a racist vote-pleaser for a government chasing after Ukip votes,” he said.
Labour MP and SUTR president Diane Abbott said the announcement was “a full-scale U-turn by this government”.
“It shows exactly what can be achieved if we are determined to fight,” she said. “Now we must step up pressure to remove the surcharge completely.
“No one should pay twice for NHS access, no-one should be treated like a second-class citizen.”
There is momentum behind a push to scrap the surcharge for all migrants, with health unions leading the calls.
Rehana Azam, GMB union national secretary for health, said, “Migrant workers are on the frontline in many essential services across the public and private sectors, not just in our NHS and care sectors.
“These workers are putting themselves at risk to ensure that our day to day lives can continue.”
Azam said that the charges should be refunded.
Dave Prentis, Unison union general secretary, said that the waiver “must apply to the workers’ families”.
“The government should go further by removing the charge for all migrant workers,” he said.
Migrants have to pay the surcharge as a £1,000 sum every two and a half years alongside other visa fees. This forces some of the lowest-paid to borrow money.
Nazek Ramadan, the director of the Migrant Voice group, said, “The partial U-turn by the government doesn’t go nearly far enough.
“From October, a family of four renewing their two and a half-year visas will have to pay an additional £6,240 for the NHS surcharge—that’s on top of the £4,000 cost of the visas.
“Just like British workers, migrants contribute to the NHS through taxes.
“This surcharge is not only unfair, but, added to the extortionate cost of work visas, crippling for many.”
The U-turn comes just as the Tories are trying to push through their new Immigration Bill.
This would make it harder for migrants to come to Britain—and strengthen the hostile environment against those who do.
Anti-racists have to keep up the fight to dump Britain’s racist immigration system.