Overseas doctors have been unable to leave the country, threatened with eviction and had family members sacked because of delays in issuing new UK residence permits they were promised at the height of the pandemic.
The issue affects non-EU nationals working in the NHS — many exhausted after months battling Covid-19. One doctor said he had been unable to visit an ill relative in Pakistan, while another had to cancel plans to get married in his home country.
Julia Patterson, a psychiatrist and chief executive of Every Doctor, a campaign group for doctors, said she believed the problem was widespread among the 3,000 NHS staff the government estimated required the visa extension. “I would say pretty safely it’s in the thousands of people affected by this.”
The Home Office, which is responsible for the UK’s immigration system, pledged on March 31 that it would automatically grant a year’s extension to the visas of any NHS staff whose permission to stay in the UK expired before October 1.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, said at the time that she did not want staff dealing with the pandemic to be “distracted by the visa process”. The offer also covered the visas of the workers’ dependants and was subsequently made free of charge.
The hospitals asked those affected to hand over their and their families’ Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) ahead of their visa renewal date at the request of the Home Office, according to testimony from eight doctors interviewed by the Financial Times.
But months later they were still awaiting for some or all of the replacements. The tightening up on undocumented migrants in the UK in recent years makes it impossible for immigrants to undertake many essential tasks, ranging from renting property to placing their children in a school, without showing a BRP, which proves the holder has a valid visa for the UK.
The interviewees ranged from trainee doctors to consultants and were working at hospitals across England and Wales. They had come from Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Nigeria and Mexico.
One doctor, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions, said his wife, a nursing assistant, had been dismissed from her job because she was unable to prove her right to work in the UK. He had lost casual — or “bank” — work at a hospital, which as a result now had no weekend cover for his speciality.
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He said he knew of a number of doctors at the NHS Trust where he worked who had faced problems. One was being threatened with eviction because he could not prove he was allowed to rent property in the UK. A friend had been unable to take up a promotion in the NHS because he had not had his residence permit returned.
“For so many people, their lives have been at a standstill,” the doctor said. “It’s more than a distraction. It’s such an emotional stress for me.”
Sherif Shaarawy, an eye surgeon at London’s Royal Free Hospital, said he had received his new BRP but his wife and two children were still waiting. Dr Shaarawy, who contracted Covid-19 while working on the general wards during the pandemic, had planned to take his family on a break to their home country Egypt over the summer.
He was forced to scrap the plans because he was unsure if his family would have been allowed back into the UK without their visas. “We expected to take a break after a horrible period of work,” he said.
Tamer Ads, also from Egypt who is a orthopaedic surgeon at St George’s Hospital Trust in south London, said he had also had to cancel a trip back home.
He submitted the residence permits for his wife and three children to the trust in June, ahead of the permit’s expiry in July, but had still not received any replacements. He was worried it would interfere with his ability to sign a new contract with the trust. “There was a total lack of information,” Dr Ads said.
The Home Office said it had completed the process of preparing BRPs for all eligible staff who had been brought to its attention by employers and who had provided the necessary information. “They will receive their BRPs in due course.”
Colin Yeo, an immigration barrister, said he had always been concerned at the Home Office’s promise to extend the visas because it had no way of knowing which visa holders worked for the NHS. “They made a promise to do something that they had no way of delivering.”
Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the council of the BMA, the doctors’ trade union, called on any members affected to contact the organisation.
additional reporting by Naomi Rovnick
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