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Immigration Corner: Must I pay England for health insurance?

Published:Tuesday | March 31, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Dear Mr Bassie,

I intend to travel to England and my relatives have advised me that I will have to pay the government some money towards health insurance. I have not heard of this. I would appreciate any information that you can provide me with.

- GP


Dear GP,

This legislation will come into effect in April, 2015 and it will mean that nationals from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) coming to the United Kingdom for longer than six months will be required to pay a 'health surcharge' when they make their immigration application. It will also be paid by non-EEA nationals already in the United Kingdom who apply to extend their stay.

It is anticipated that there will be a migrant 'health surcharge' that it is planned will raise approximately £200 million a year. The British government is set to collect up to £1.7 billion over the next 10 years that will be used to help pay for the cost of National Health Service (NHS) treatment given to temporary migrants.

At present migrants who go to work, study or join family members in the United Kingdom currently receive free NHS treatment in the same way as a permanent resident. The changes which were part of the Immigration Act which became law in 2014, will ensure that migrants make a proper financial contribution to the cost of their NHS care. In England alone, it has been calculated that the use of the NHS by overseas visitors and migrants is estimated to cost up to £2 billion a year and with £950 million of this amount being spent on temporary, non-EEA workers and students.

The health surcharge will be £200 per year and £150 per year for students. This amount will be payable upfront and for the total period of time for which migrants are given permission to stay over there. The authorities have stated that in setting the surcharge levels it has considered the wide range of free health services available to migrants alongside the valuable contribution made and the need to ensure that the United Kingdom remains attractive to the brightest and the best from around the world.

The money for this that is collected by the Home Office will be passed to the health departments in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The authorities have stated that the surcharge levels are lower than the cost of medical insurance required in some of the other nations and, for overseas students, the surcharge represents only one per cent of the total cost of studying in the United Kingdom for a three year undergraduate course. It should be noted that dependents will generally pay the same amount as the main applicant. When a person has paid the surcharge, a migrant will have the same access to the NHS as a United Kingdom permanent resident whilst his/her stay over there is lawful.

With respect to Non-EEA nationals who are visiting the United Kingdom on a tourist visa, they will not pay the health surcharge, but will continue to be fully liable for the costs of any NHS treatment at the point they receive it.

In addition, to the introduction of the health surcharge, the Department of Health is presently working on proposals that will mean from April non-EEA visitors who use the NHS will be charged 150 per cent of the cost of any treatment received. This means that for a PS100 procedure, that person could be billed £150. The authorities have stated that this reflects the additional cost burden the NHS carries when managing the administration for visitors to the United Kingdom.

The 'health surcharge' is said to be one of the key reforms within the Immigration Act 2014. The government has stated that this piece of legislation is meant to build on the government's ongoing reforms that are aimed at ensuring that the immigration system works in the British national interest. The Act is focused on stopping illegal migrants using public services to which they are not entitled, reducing the pull factors which encourage people to go to the United Kingdom for the wrong reasons, and assist in making it easier for the Home Office to remove people who should not be there.

- John S. Bassie is a barrister/attorney-at-law who practises law in Jamaica. He is a justice of the peace, a Supreme Court-appointed mediator, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, a chartered arbitrator and a member of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (U.K.).