The announcement from the UK comes a week after the Home Office said the cost of a student visa would rise in each of the next two years, and that a controversial bond scheme aimed at overstayers could be extended to students.
Launching a consultation today, Jeremy Hunt said he aimed to end free access to the National Health Service (NHS), which he believes is being abused by so called “health tourists”. Other plans include a new system to register and track migrants who register at a GP surgery for the first time.
“We have been clear that we are a national health service not an international health service”
“We have been clear that we are a national health service not an international health service,” Hunt told the BBC.
Subject to the six-week consultation, a range of migrant and visitor categories could face levies, with new permanent migrants paying at least £1,000 upfront to cover their first five years in the UK.
The £200 annual levy on students would be on top of visa fees, which currently cost around £298 by post offshore or £406 onshore but will rise by up to 10% in the next two years (potentially to £360 and £491 respectively).
In addition, all short-tem visitors who come to the UK for less than six months would no longer be able to access GP services for free – a move sure to hit student visitors who currently only have to pay for hospital care. No one will be refused access to emergency treatment, emphasised Hunt, and those from the European Union would continue to access healthcare for free.
He added that the cost of healthcare for students would be in line with that of other countries. However, many have voiced concerns that the policy will deter visitors and pose a public health risk.
Clare Gerada of the Royal College of General Practitioners told the BBC: “I don’t think we should be turning the GP surgery into a border agency. I think we should be making sure that people who do feel that they are ill can come and access us because we certainly don’t want people who have got Tuberculosis or HIV or any other infectious disease, or in fact anybody that believes themselves to be ill, to be frightened of seeing a GP for fear of being charged.”
“Other states should join NSW in adopting more appropriate healthcare pricing for international students”
She added that proposals overplayed the cost of foreigners using the NHS, which is estimated at £30m in England – equivalent to just two hours of the NHS’s annual spending.
Ministers are said to be exploring alternatives to the levies, including a possible private health insurance scheme.
New South Wales lowers costs
The proposals come a day after the government of New South Wales, Australia, announced an over 30% reduction in rates for international student healthcare, effective immediately. Internationals must pay to use Australia’s public healthcare system but charges have risen by up to 200% in the state.
Aleem Nizari, national president of the Council of International Students in Australia, welcomed the discount but warned charges remained too high in other states.
“We commend NSW Health for addressing a bad decision that was severely impacting the lives of international students as well as Australia’s reputation as an attractive destination for international education,” he said.
“However, the time is now for other states to recognise the harmful impacts of such outrageous fees and join NSW in adopting more appropriate healthcare pricing for international students.”