Questions and answers

COVID-19 sources of external staffing

These frequently asked questions are updated on a regular basis, in response to ongoing changes to government advice and national and/or local restrictions. Please check back regularly for the most up-to-date guidance.

1. What is the current situation around free visa extensions? 

All regulated professionals across the NHS who have a visa expiring before 31 March 2021 are eligible for a one-year visa extension.  The extension also applies to immediate family members.

If there are any concerns about an individual's right to work at this time due to previous delays in processing their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) for the first of visa extensions, organisations should contact UKVINHSTeam@homeoffice.gov.uk in the first instance. Our understanding is that right to work should not be affected at this time due to administration delays. We also understand that all BRPs have now been processed where full details were initially provided, although there may be some delays in receiving the physical BRP.

If organisations are having issues confirming extensions or are unsure about elements of the process, please contact workforcesupply@nhsemployers.org for additional support.

2. Why does the visa extension not apply to other healthcare staff from overseas who are here in the UK?

The government prioritised measures based on immediate COVID-19 supply needs and capacity. 

More information is available on the gov.uk website.

3. What about health and care professionals who have visas due to expire after 31 March 2021? 

If their visa is due to expire after 31 March 2021, individuals will need to apply to extend their stay as usual via the Health and Care Visa route.

They will be able to apply from within the UK where they would usually need to return to their home country, and the terms of their leave will remain the same until their application is decided (providing they applied before their current visa's expiry date). The government has also stated that a decision should be made within three weeks of biometric information being provided.

Individuals can apply to extend their visa for a maximum of five years, as long as their total stay does not exceed six years.

Details on how staff can extend their visa, including full eligibility detail, are available on Gov.uk

 

4. What is exceptional assurance/what happens to staff who cannot leave the country?

If staff had intended to leave the UK, but were not been able to do so and have a visa or leave that expires between 1 December 2020 and 31 January 2021 they may have been able/be able to request additional time to stay, known as exceptional assurance.

If their previous visa allowed them to work, they will continue to be able to do so. More information, including a form to apply, is available on Gov.uk.

5. I have a member of staff who has applied for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). Will they now extend their visa, or do they wait for their ILR?

ILR applications which have been made will be honoured and processed as quickly as possible.

6. Will overseas workers offered visa extensions have to pay the immigration health surcharge?

Yes, but this will be reimbursed. Those individuals who have paid the immigration health surcharge (IHS) will be able to claim reimbursement in six-month blocks. Further detail on how the IHS exemption works in practice is available on Gov.uk. The IHS no longer applies to registered health and care professionals coming to the UK on a skilled worker health and care visa. 

7. Will individuals be given evidence of their visa extension?

Yes. Individuals should have been sent a letter that will arrive either to their home address or to the HR department within the trust. We have had queries from NHS organisations about delays to processing these visa extensions, UKVI has confirmed that it is continuing to process all applications and updates will be given as soon as a worker's visa is extended. Demand is high and the department has had to adapt to working restrictions, however UKVI have confirmed that there is no risk to yourselves or your employees of enforcement action during this time. If you haven't received a copy of the letter, please email workforcesupply@nhsemployers.org

8. How  much more time will nurses be given to pass their OSCE skills test? 

The Home Office has extended the period by which nurses who join the NMC temporary register need to have taken the OSCE for the first time to 30 September 2021, and have passed by 31 December 2021. 

9. I work within HR in a trust – is there anything I should be doing or preparing to support our affected migrant workforce?

Individuals may have questions so it will be worth developing some local Q&As and placing these on your staff intranet to help manage flow. Overseas nurses will be directed to local HR and nursing teams for further information, so try to be prepared for any questions or concerns they may have. 

10. Is there functionality within the Electronic Staff Record (ESR) to record these temporary measures such as visa extensions?

Employers can now record settled status on ESR, as well as report on it. While there is no obligation currently for an individual to inform their employer that they have applied to the scheme (or the status of their application), where this information has been made available, the new functionality will help employers to raise awareness with relevant staff members and record right to work information.   

11. The restriction on the number of hours student doctors and nurses has been lifted, but is there a cap in place to ensure health and safety?

Visit our COVID-19 working hours and working time regulation section for detailed information. 

12. I have a member of staff from overseas who is currently stuck in their home country or elsewhere outside of the UK. What are the arrangements for their travel back to the UK?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has detailed information on its website for individuals who need to return to the UK. 

13. Can overseas doctors who haven’t yet passed both PLAB 1 and 2 join the General Medical Council’s register on a temporary basis?  

As things stand, the GMC is not giving temporary registration to overseas-qualified doctors who are yet to pass both parts of the PLAB test. The statutory requirements for registration remain at the same high standard to protect patients and ensure registrants have the necessary medical knowledge and skills to practise safely in the UK.

Overseas doctors who cannot be given temporary registration who wish to contribute to the COVID-19 response are able to volunteer for suitable roles in the NHS where opportunities exist. They must not undertake duties of a doctor until they are GMC registered with a licence to practise. 

14. What is the Home Office bereavement scheme and do employers need to do anything to ensure families and dependants have the support they need?

The bereavement scheme which was launched in April 2020 continues to offer indefinite leave to remain for the families and dependents of health workers in the NHS, the independent health and care sector. The scheme was extended in May 2020 to cover NHS support staff and social care workers.

Employers of those eligible for the scheme will be contacted by UK Visas and Immigration in the first instance, who will then arrange for those affected to be issued with indefinite leave to remain. If further information is required or relatives believe they are eligible but have not yet heard anything, enquiries in the first instance should be shared with UKVINHSTeam@homeoffice.gov.uk

You can find more information about the bereavement scheme on the Gov.uk website.

15. How does the mandatory COVID-19 entry tests, 10-day quarantine and Test to Release work and what does it mean for healthcare professionals?

All new arrivals into the UK must present a negative COVID-19 test taken no longer than 72 hours prior to departure. The travel corridor list has been temporarily suspended, therefore all international passengers arriving to England, including British and Irish nationals, will still have to isolate for ten days. Find out more from Gov.uk or read our latest news story to find out more about updated NHS Staff Council quarantine guidance.  

UK chief medical officers announced in December that self-isolation timescales will reduce from 14 days to 10 days from 14 December. More information can be found in the government guidance.

From December 2020, under the government's new Test to Release scheme, individuals entering the UK have been able to obtain a private test five days post-arrival into the UK, and if negative can begin in post. Health and care overseas recruits and staff can use the Test to Release scheme, however, tests must be carried out privately. NHS COVID-19 testing is not permitted to be used for this purpose. A list of the private test providers can be accessed from the GOV.uk website.

Guidance on quarantine and self isolation was been produced by a joint working group of the NHS Staff Council Executive. Please refer to this dedicated page for further details.

16. Are visa centres open?

Details of which visa centres are open can be found on Gov.uk. A number of UK-based Visa and Citizenship Application Centres (UKVCAS) are also open. More detail is available on the UKVCAS page on Gov.uk.

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