Students enrolled under a student visa – which covers courses longer than six months, with the exception of those covered by the extended visitor visa – will be exempt from the additional fees, but will instead pay a £150 annual health levy, entitling them to use NHS services as residents.
An international student on a 3-year degree course would therefore pay an additional £450 in total as part of their visa charges, explained Chelsea Austin, a spokesperson for the Department of Health.
“They’re then entitled to free healthcare,” she said. “The rest of the changes don’t apply to them; they will have paid for their primary care upfront. The changes only apply to people who are visiting or here temporarily.”
“The changes only apply to people who are visiting or here temporarily”
Under the new regulations, temporary migrants, including non-EU international students who come to study for up to six months, will face extended charges for primary care services including prescriptions, while GP and nurse consultations will remain free.
They will also pay higher fees for services that are subsidised for people who are entitled to free NHS care, including optical and dental services.
The Department of Health also plans to introduce a new system for identifying and recording patients who should be charged for NHS services.
Daniel Stevens, NUS international students officer, told The PIE News that the proposals are “unworkable, expensive and discriminatory” and sends a message that the UK is “shutting the door on its international students”.
“Unfortunately we are already seeing that many international students feel unwelcome in the UK as a result of the government’s policies,” he said. “Further monitoring and regulation will cost more to the public purse than it will save, whilst also unfairly targeting a group in our society that contributes a phenomenal amount to our economy and to our communities.”
A statement from the Department of Health said that the proposed changes are part of the UK coalition government’s plans to clamp down on abuse of the NHS.
Health Minister Lord Howe said in a statement: “Having a universal health service free at the point of use rightly makes us the envy of the world, but we must make sure the system is fair to the hardworking British taxpayers who fund it.”
“We know that we need to make changes across the NHS to better identify and charge visitors and migrants. Introducing charging at primary care is the first step to achieving this,” he said.
The proposed changes will be rolled out later this year. More information on when the measures will come into effect will be available in March 2014.