Migrant Access To Healthcare And Other Public Services During The Coronavirus Crisis

20 Mar 2020, 33 mins ago

Over thirty organisations led by Liberty have signed a letter addressed to Home Secretary, Priti Patel, urging her to lift restrictions on migrants’ access to the NHS. It is feared that the restrictions in place currently may force many to “make a decision between accessing healthcare or risking their immigration status”.

Whilst access to the NHS normally depends on the conditions of your individual visa or leave, Public Health England have recently updated their guidance on NHS Entitlements: Migrant Health Guide with the following information:

There can be no charge made to an overseas visitor for the diagnosis or treatment of coronavirus (COVID-19).

All overseas visitors, including anyone living in the UK without permission, should be aware that:

  1. No charges apply to testing for COVID-19, even if the result is negative, or to any treatment provided for COVID-19 if the result is positive or up to the point that it is negatively diagnosed. The same is true of most other infectious diseases.
  2. NHS trusts have been advised that no immigration checks are required for overseas visitors that are known to be only undergoing testing or treatment for COVID-19”.

There are concerns, however, that the general public’s undermined trust in the migrant community, caused by the hostile environment, may mean that they are unlikely to access healthcare during this public health crisis, even though they are entitled to it. The above letter therefore called on the government to also mount a public campaign and suspend data sharing with the Home Office relating to migrant charging for NHS treatment. By reassuring migrants that they are entitled to access the NHS free of charge and without fear of repercussions from the immigration authorities, it is hoped that our communities would be safer by helping to prevent the spread of the virus. As Satbir Singh, Chief Executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants pointed out, “we are only as protected as the least protected among us”.

Furthermore, and in light of the predicted job losses which may result from the pandemic, there have been calls to lift other aspects of the hostile environment policy, such as precluding migrants from accessing social welfare provisions. Currently, most migrants are unable to access unemployment benefits, for example. By providing financial support to those in isolation, it would discourage those showing symptoms from having little choice but to go to work simply because they have no other source of income. As travel becomes more and more difficult, with airlines under strain and with countries locking down their borders, returning to countries of origin in order to claim financial relief is not without significant and increasing practical difficulties.

The letter to the Home Secretary also demanded that the government confirm that migrants will not be penalised for missing any immigration related appointments, which may force people to leave isolation unnecessarily, or for overstaying beyond the expiry of their permission to be in the UK as a result of the coronavirus. The measures set out in the letter aim to tackle some of the factors particularly relevant to the migrant community, and which make them acutely vulnerable to the coronavirus.

We are following all the developments relating to the coronavirus emergency closely, especially with regards to its impact on UK immigration matters. Please do keep updated with our further blogs and bulletins on this site.


The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.

©Gherson 2020