The British government has imposed a mandatory health surcharge program on temporary migrants and students from non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries that will allow them to access NHS health care services on the same basis as UK citizens. The surcharge program is one of the key reforms within the Immigration Act of 2014, and went into effect April 6, 2015.
The surcharges are £150 per year for international students; and £200 for nationals from non- EEA countries applying for work visas, or to join family for longer than six months. The fees are payable up front when applying for visas and must cover the total time the applicants are expected to be in the UK. For example, a student on a three-year course will pay a surcharge of £450, as would each of his or her dependents.
The payments will be collected by the Home Office and will go directly to the NHS.
Visitors to the UK on tourist visas for less than six months are exempt from the surcharges but will remain liable for any hospital treatment, as is the case now. Though the figures are still being crunched, it is expected that as of April 6, 2015, non-EEA visitors who use the NHS will be charged 150 per cent of the cost of treating UK citizens. “For this group,” said the Home Office release, “possession of adequate private travel and health insurance is highly recommended.”
In addition, nationals of Australia and New Zealand are exempt from the surcharge requirement as they are covered by reciprocal government agreements with the UK. Inter-company transfers are also exempt, but applicants still must go through the process on the surcharge website.
In releasing details of the surcharge program, Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said, “For generations, the British public have paid their taxes to make the NHS what it is today—the surcharge will mean temporary migrants will also pay their way.”
A supporting press release noted that the government is set to recoup up to £1.7 billion over the next 10 years to help pay for the cost of NHS treatment given to temporary migrants. “In England alone, use of the NHS by overseas visitors and migrants is estimated to cost up to £2 billion a year—with £950 million being spent on temporary, non-EEA workers or students.”
The release also noted that private medical insurance for students and working migrants is likely to be significantly more expensive than the NHS surcharges and would be less comprehensive—lacking coverage of pre-existing or chronic conditions and the treatment of pregnancy.
Nevertheless, students and working migrants may buy private insurance, if they wish. But they will still need to pay the surcharge.