Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to grant indefinite leave to remain to health and social care staff; and for connected purposes.
It is fair to say that I did not appreciate that I would need the national health service and its medical staff to save my life until they did. When my hospital bed was surrounded by doctors and nurses in the middle of the night, talking in terms and about things that I was in too much pain and had too high a fever to understand, I did not stop to think about their visa status—and neither, fortunately, did they.
That was a while ago now, but sadly it is a feeling that has been all too common to too many people in this country—our families, our friends and even the Prime Minister—since covid-19 hit our communities this past spring. What has rightly mattered to all of us and all the staff is that people get the best care possible. I do not think it is stretching the point to say that it has felt at times that this country, like most of the world, has been at war with covid-19. Our hospitals and care homes have felt like this generation’s frontline. Again, we have not stopped to think about anyone’s visa status, and neither have they.
Our media these past few months have not been full of stories of foreign nationals in the NHS refusing to work because it is dangerous and puts their lives at risk. No; quite the opposite. What we have seen is row after row of pictures of NHS workers, many of them foreign nationals, who have lost their lives to this virus. We have seen their names; we have read their stories. The 57-year-old healthcare assistant who died on 14 April, and the 51-year-old dental nurse who trained in the Philippines before coming to Swansea and who died on the same day, were both on visas.
Earlier this summer, through the advocacy organisation EveryDoctor, I met someone who had been working on the frontline of this pandemic. A specialist in emergency medicine, he has lost colleagues and knows the daily strain of fighting to keep alive those people struggling to combat the virus, while never being completely sure whether he has been infected himself. He is a migrant. He has been working on the frontline, paying tax and national insurance to the Exchequer, working for us, contributing, but he will in time have to apply for a fresh visa and pay for it—£700.
One reason I find that difficult to accept is that I have been so immensely proud of the way our communities came out on their doorsteps every Thursday to applaud those working in our health and care sectors. I am sure that most, if not all, of us in this place took part. It was spontaneous; it was heartfelt; and it was moving—but was it enough? Will it be enough if we have to suffer this winter when, as is widely predicted, the virus returns? I think we all know that the answer to that question is no, it will not. There has to be more, and that has to be down to us in this place.
Our Government have not yet done enough, either for those born and brought up in this country or for those who have come here to work. For all those working in our NHS for the past year, there must surely be more recognition and thanks for putting themselves in harm’s way. The virus has not discriminated in whom it attacks—we are all vulnerable; our black, Asian and ethnic minorities more than any other community—but what we are doing could be seen as discriminating in how we thank those who defend us. It is time we recognised properly the contributions that have been made.
To be fair, the Government have to some extent acknowledged that with their one-year visa extension for about 3,000 health and care staff with visas that are due to expire before 1 October—but why just 3,000, and why just for a year? Why not everyone? Why not indefinitely? Why are those who are doing vital frontline jobs excluded? What about the porters, cleaners and social care workers? Tell me where we would be without them now?
The biggest blow of all, I believe, is that even those who are included will be forced to renew their visas next year, and still have to pay that £700 each, or leave the country. We could lose them—people who have lived and trained in this country and contributed to our wellbeing; people who have helped to save lives and may one day help to save the lives of some of us. I believe that the UK should say loudly and unequivocally that those who have put their lives at risk for our country are welcome to live here. There is a precedent; we have done it before.
That anyone who has worked so hard to save lives during this emergency and put themselves at risk might one day be forced to leave should be unthinkable. Have we asked ourselves what will happen to the standard of care in this country if they are forced to leave? Where will we find the staff we need—the doctors, nurses, porters and care home workers—if another wave hits and thousands of our valuable workforce have been forced to leave because we did not have the foresight or the compassion to help them to stay?
This country, all of us, will be the losers—our colleagues, our friends, our family. That is why the Liberal Democrats and other parties are fighting to give all existing health and care staff from other countries the right to stay in the UK with their families. That is why I am introducing this Bill to grant them and their families the right to settle here, without the costs or the bureaucratic hurdles that that usually involves. I also believe that this view is widely held in this House and that it has the support of MPs from other parties. Indeed, in the steps they have taken so far, the Government have indicated that they too recognise the contribution made by so many migrants, so I appeal to them to go a step further and support this move.
Let us send out a message that we recognise, value and appreciate the work that so many people have done for us all. This proposal would be a small way to recognise and celebrate the enormous contributions that people from all over the world make to our national health service and to our society, our economy and the wellbeing of our communities—and for, potentially, each and every one of us.
Question put and agreed to.
That Christine Jardine, Sir Edward Davey, Wendy Chamberlain, Sarah Olney, Munira Wilson, Jamie Stone, Mr Alistair Carmichael, Caroline Lucas, Mr Virendra Sharma, Jim Shannon, Liz Saville Roberts and Bell Ribeiro-Addy present the Bill. Christine Jardine accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 30 October, and to be printed (Bill 170).