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Migrants and the NHS: The Real Cost

The Conservatives have claimed an increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) of £625 has the potential to bring in over £500 million annually. However, without robust statistics or evidence calculating such a figure, is this just another way to perpetuate the not-so-‘redundant’ hostile environment?

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    Overview on Immigration Health Surcharge

    Immigrants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) currently pay a £400 health surcharge when applying to come to the UK to work, study or join family for 6 months or longer. This charge is an upfront fee that accompanies visa applications, hiking the charge to £2,000 for a five-year stay in the country.

    Yet now the Conservatives are looking to increase the charge as well as extend it to EU citizens who enter the country on a UK visa after Brexit. The Tories find that international individuals on work, study or family visas are haemorrhaging the NHS, costing £625 per year while contributing ‘only’ £400. This means a working migrant coming to the UK can expect to pay £3,125 alongside similarly extortionate visa fees, just to enter the country.

    “It is difficult to see why EU workers would choose the UK as an international home when the UK Government makes it so clear that they are unwelcome.”

    However, the Conservatives’ research is refuted easily: immigrants pay taxes, meaning even if the figure was accurate, migrants contribute elsewhere. These taxes – paid by both British citizens and migrants in the UK – are not differentiated. Migrant or not, taxes are spent by the Government in the same way. Besides, research overwhelmingly finds that migrants put far more into the public purse than UK-born residents manage to in their lifetimes.

    The Tories’ ‘figures’ are in direct opposition to many leading economists and researchers, notably Oxford Economics which in 2018 found EU nationals pay £78,000 into the UK economy more than they take out of it through welfare or public services.

    Key researcher Ian Mulheirn said: “When it comes to the public finances, European migrants contribute substantially more than they cost, easing the tax burden on other taxpayers.”

    Confusion over Surcharge

    FullFact have similarly been stumped by the new announcement, confused over the Tories’ wild findings: “Like people permanently living in the UK, those from overseas pay things like VAT, income tax, fuel duty, tobacco duty and any other regular taxes which go into the pot of money the government uses to pay for things like the NHS.”

    FullFact continued: “It’s unclear where the Conservatives’ estimate of the average cost to the NHS of people on work, study or family visas comes from.” It has also requested the party shed light on the £500 million a year claim, especially since it appears contradictory to that of Tory MP Edward Argar who stated in October that the average surcharge payer costs £480 per year. Why this has now become £625 merely one month later is unknown. It appears to have been plucked out of thin air.

    The move comes as the fee only doubled this January: prior to the beginning of 2019, migrants could pay £200 per year upfront to use the NHS. However, even this sparked controversy when it was implemented in 2015 as NHS doctors. nurses and care workers feared the IHS charge was deterring staff from working in the UK and ought to be scrapped entirely.

    Statements from the Government

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement that “British people pay huge amounts to great NHS care, it is only fair that everyone in the UK does” is nonsensical considering the already eye-watering surcharge and high taxes paid by immigrants. This anti-immigration rhetoric, deliberately planting a seed of prejudice by suggesting migrants don’t contribute to the UK economy and its public services, is reinforcing the hostile environment. Johnson bizarrely defended the new surcharge as a move for equality, stating: “As we come out of the EU we have a new opportunity for fairness and to make sure all those who come here are treated the same.”

    “This anti-immigration rhetoric, deliberately planting a seed of prejudice by suggesting migrants don’t contribute to the UK economy and its public services, is reinforcing the hostile environment.”

    Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “We will reduce immigration overall while being more open and flexible to the highly skilled people we need, such as scientists and doctors,” highlighting her ignorance on the vitality of work carried out by so-called ‘low skilled’ labourers. It is difficult to see why EU workers would choose the UK as an international home when the Government makes it so clear that they are unwelcome.

    It is disappointing, as always, to see the Conservatives pander to such fierce anti-immigration narratives but it is sadly no longer surprising.

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