UK to charge students for healthcare

October 11, 2013

A new UK Immigration Bill including measures to charge international students for use of the National Health Service and requiring private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants has been criticised by international education bodies.




The bill, published yesterday and planned to be implemented from summer 2014, is designed to reform immigration laws, make it easier to remove illegal immigrants and prevent abuse of public services, said Immigration Minister Mark Harper. But student groups said the bill would disproportionately impact on law-abiding international students that have already paid substantial tuition fees.

The most obvious effect on international students is a provision that non-EEA nationals with limited entry clearance of more than six months will need to pay a health surcharge as a precondition of entry – to be paid at the same time as visa charges. Under the current system, students are entitled to free healthcare.

“We have been clear that the UK has a national health service, not an international health service. These proposals will ensure that migrants here temporarily make a fair contribution to the cost of health services in the UK,” said Harper.

The amount of the surcharge has not yet been confirmed, although a figure of UK£200 (US$319) was previously suggested. In a statement published with the bill, the Home Office denied this would deter students.

“The surcharge would be set at a competitive rate and will be a lower cost over the period of stay than the cost of even basic private medical insurance. Private medical insurance for students and working migrants is a common requirement in many competitor nations, such as Australia and the USA, and the costs there are higher,” said the statement.

In a letter sent to the Home Office consultation team following earlier proposals of the bill, Dominic Scott OBE, Chief Executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, said there was no evidence of abuse of the system by non-EU students who have already paid large amounts of money to be in the UK, unlike some other migrant groups.

In an article published in Study Travel Magazine recently, Daniel Stevens, International Students’ Officer at the National Union of Students, said non-EU students were a minimal financial burden to the NHS. “If these changes dissuade international students from coming to the UK, it is likely they will result in a far greater loss of income and annul any potential savings. International students contribute above and beyond any cost to the NHS or any cost to any public service.”

The bill does not state if a student that took a part-time job and paid contributions through the form of taxation would be entitled to a refund on the health surcharge, or if a student with private medical insurance would be exempted.

Another clause of the bill is that landlords will be required to check the immigration status of potential tenants. Ostensibly a non-EEA citizen on a valid student visa would be perfectly eligible to rent in the private sector, but fears have been expressed that landlords would be deterred from accepting international students because of the bureaucracy created.

In an NUS blog Stevens said, “Landlord checks will lead to racial profiling by those seeking to avoid the complicated nature of checking someone’s immigration status, a requirement left until now to certified and trained individuals in the employ of the Home Office.” He added the measure could lead to segregation between international and domestic students and could drive international students towards non-law abiding landlords.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said the bill had implications for international students and would need to be communicated properly. “Some of the reforms and rhetoric around immigration in the past have led to damaging, and often misleading, headlines overseas about the ability of genuine international students to come here and study.”

The Home Office will publish a secondary bill setting out precise details including the level of surcharge.

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