International students will have to pay to receive healthcare on the National Health Service (NHS) starting next month.
As of 6 April, as part of the new Immigration Act passed last year, students from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) will have to pay a £150 surcharge as part of their student visa, regardless of whether they later use the NHS or not. Students will not be given the option of not registering for NHS care.
Currently non-EEA nationals coming to study receive free medical treatment under the NHS in the same way as a permanent resident.
The charge will also be paid by non-EEA nationals already in the UK who apply to extend their stay.
Immigration and Security Minister, James Brokenshire said: “The health surcharge will play a vital role in ensuring Britain’s most cherished public service is provided on a basis that is fair to all who use it. For generations, the British public have paid their taxes to help make the NHS what it is today – the surcharge will mean temporary migrants will also pay their way.
“And by keeping the surcharge at a competitive level, we are also recognising the contribution temporary migrants make to the wider economy.”
However the National Union of Students (NUS) has previously expressed concern about the new costs. A statement published on the NUS website last year states that: “These changes will impact on international students more than any others as they make up 75 per cent of those subject to visa controls.
“Of those subject to visa controls they are already the most heavily regulated, monitored and pay the most into the UK economy for the duration of their stay.
“We believe that the introduction of healthcare charges is discriminatory, counter-intuitive and impractical… We think this gives a message that international students are not welcome in the UK and will mean more students will choose to study elsewhere.”
The NUS has also expressed concerns that the costs may not be “competitive” for all students. According to them, a postgraduate research student with a family of his or her own could have to pay up to £3000 in additional visa fees in adherence to the new policy before being allowed into the UK.
A University of St Andrews spokesperson was critical of the proposal when it was initially announced. “The welfare system is a matter for government.” they said. However, as Scotland’s most international university, it is vital that we have a policy environment that allows us to compete effectively in a global market.
“The University is concerned about the impact that a healthcare charge could have on our ability to attract the brightest and the best from around the globe. It remains unclear as to how burdensome international students actually are on the NHS and therefore whether there is any justification for such a charge.
“We will continue to do all we can to ensure St Andrews remains an attractive place to work and to study and remain in dialogue with government and Universities Scotland over this issue.”
Alongside the introduction of the health surcharge, the Department of Health is 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 they receive while in the UK.
Health Minister Lord Howe said: “We want international visitors to feel welcome to use the NHS, provided they pay for it — just as families in the UK do through their taxes, so we are making sure that overseas visitors and migrants pay for NHS healthcare and helping NHS staff to understand the charging system.”
Non-EEA nationals visiting the UK will not pay the health surcharge, but will continue to have to pay for the costs of any NHS treatment at the point they receive it.