The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called for the immigration health surcharge to be scrapped for NHS staff to encourage more nurses from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).
It has stepped up its campaign against the surcharge in response to news that the government plans to double it from £200 to £400 per family member for their visa to use the NHS each year.
The RCN voted at its annual congress this year to lobby the government to waive the charge for overseas nursing staff working in the NHS and their dependents.
Chair of the RCN Council Maria Trewern said: "The immigration health surcharge not only imposes an enormous personal cost on hardworking nurses and health care assistants, but risks driving away overseas staff at a time we need them most.
"Patient care is suffering because we don't have enough nurses - there are 41,000 vacancies in England alone."
She said that in view of this, the RCN has written to the home secretary highlighting the "negative effect" the charges have both on those having to pay them and on patient care.
RCN England director Tom Sandford said such charges often "tear families apart," with some nursing staff having to send their children home to their countries of origin while they stay in the UK working for the NHS.
He accused the government of not learning the lessons from the Windrush affair, arguing they should be "thanking" overseas nursing staff and not raising charges for them.
Concerns over the surcharge have been heightened by revelations over the impact of Brexit on recruitment and retention, with the number of nurses from the EU falling significantly since the referendum in 2016.
In April this year, the RCN called for the rights of EU nursing staff in the UK to be guaranteed, after it was revealed that the number of EU nurses and midwives registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council fell by 29 per cent between April 2017 and March 2018.
During the same period the number of new additions to the register from the EU dropped by 87 per cent year-on-year.
Written by James Puckle
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