Unions unite with migrant organisations to call out government plan to fund pay rise with higher migrant fees 

  • Trade unions, including BMA, BFAWU, NEU, NASUWT and GMB, have issued a joint statement with migrant organisations calling on the government to reverse plans to increase visa and NHS fees in order to fund public sector pay rises.
  • Statement says increase to Immigration Health Surcharge is ‘unaffordable’ and ‘a blatant attempt to sow division within the labour movement and our communities’. It says the government should instead meet pay demands using progressive taxation.
  • ‘No worker should be pushed into poverty, unsustainable debt or homelessness simply because of the papers they hold.’

Trade unions and migrant justice organisations have described the government’s decision to fund part of the public sector pay offer through substantial hikes to visa and migrant healthcare costs as ‘a blatant attempt to sow division within the labour movement and our communities’.

A statement signed by 60 trade unions and migrant organisations, including the British Medical Association (BMA), National Education Union (NEU), NASUWT and GMB, expressed strong opposition to Rishi Sunak’s attempt to ‘pit worker against worker’.

The joint statement reiterated that public sector workers deserve pay rises but urged the government to abandon the current plan and instead meet pay demands using progressive taxation ‘which ensures those with the broadest shoulders contribute more to our vital public services’. 

This criticism comes after the government announced the offer of a 5 to 7% pay rise for the public sector, with pay for NHS staff part-funded by raising the ‘extortionate’ fees that migrants in the UK face, including a 20% increase in some visas and settlement fees and a 66% increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge, a discriminatory charge for migrants to pay extra for healthcare.

A migrant family of four currently has to pay around £50,000 over 10 years for the right to stay, which is set to increase to around £68,000. The joint statement has said that this further increase is ‘simply unaffordable’.

The migrant organisations and charities who signed include the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Migrants Organise, Medact, the Runnymede Trust, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Doctors of the World and Praxis. 

Prof Philip Banfield, Chair of Council at BMA, said: ‘The proposed increase in the charges on migrant health workers to pay for the government’s already-compromised pay deal is frankly shameful.

‘The Immigration Health Surcharge is an additional punitive tax on much needed overseas colleagues. The NHS should be funded from general taxation, not charges that unfairly target individual groups – that’s why we called for abolishing this tax completely. 

‘Claiming to use it to fund an inadequate pay offer is especially insulting. The government are pitting the public against each other, targeting one group to fund below-inflation offers for another when this country needs them desperately to help get the NHS back on its feet. 

‘This tax discriminates against immigrants by charging them upfront fees in the thousands along with months of additional bureaucracy and hoops to jump through. For medical colleagues wanting to be joined by family members in the UK this can be prohibitive, losing their skills to the NHS entirely.

‘I’m afraid that doctors won’t stand by while the government scapegoats immigrants for their own mismanagement of the NHS. We will continue to demand they come to the table with a responsible, credible pay offer – not one funded by divisive theatrical tricks like this.’

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary at NEU, said: ‘Whilst we have been assured that the extra £900 million for the teachers’ pay award isn’t funded via the higher migrant fees, we do stand in complete solidarity with sister unions in their strong objections to the government seeking to sow divisions with this policy. The government should fund all our public services properly and proper funding should be viewed as an investment in our country.’

Aliya Yule, Access to Healthcare Organiser at Migrants Organise, said: ‘The NHS is indebted to migrants, and it was founded on the principle that everyone should be able to access healthcare, regardless of ability to pay or where you are from. The Immigration Health Surcharge undermines these principles, and it is important that the labour and migrant justice movements stand together in the face of this government’s attacks.’ 

Dr Roghieh Dehghan Zaklaki, a GP based in London, said: ‘To me, none of these policies are experienced in isolation. Together, they explicitly communicate my place as a second class citizen here and drive me further away from a sense of belonging to the UK. The ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ that will mainly affect non-white people like me, is hostile to the community I belong to, as is the NHS surcharge that again affects my immediate family, my loved ones. The increased costs of the surcharge mean I won’t be able to afford to support my mother to move here and will be forced to leave my job and my home to look after her.’

Caitlin Boswell, Policy and Advocacy Manager at Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants  said:  ‘Migrant workers are the bedrock of our public services, they helped build and maintain the services our families and loved ones use everyday. All public sector workers desperately deserve a pay rise but migrant workers should not be footing the bill. Instead of further victimising people who have enriched our communities and country, this government should fund the public sector pay rise through taxing those corporations that are making millions from the cost of living crisis that is hitting people across the country.’A second statement ‘against the use of racist charges’ was signed by nearly 3000 individuals, including Members of Parliament and the House of Lords, as well as trade union members, saying that increasing healthcare charges for migrants would further undermine the foundations the NHS was built on. They called the move ‘a clear attempt to make migrant communities pay the price for decades of Government underfunding of our public services, and declining pay’.

Signatories of the statement: 

  1. British Medical Association 
  2. The GMB 
  3. NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union 
  4. The National Education Union (NEU) 
  5. Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)
  6. UCU – University and College Union
  7. Society of Radiologists
  8. Social Workers Union 
  9. Fire Brigades Union (FBU) 
  10. ASLEF 
  11. BFAWU
  12. Asylum Matters
  13. Bradford Rape Crisis
  14. CARAG 
  15. CARIS Haringey
  16. Caritas Shrewsbury
  17. Doctors of the World 
  18. Duhra Solicitors
  19. English for Action (EFA) London
  20. Evesham Vale Welcomes Refugees 
  21. Fresh Grassroots Rainbow Community 
  22. Focus on Labour Exploitation: FLEX
  23. Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group
  24. Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU)
  25. Haringey Welcome
  26. Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI)
  27. Kent Refugee Help
  28. Kiran Support services
  29. Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS)
  30. Leeds Anti-Raids Action
  31. Maternity Action
  32. Maternity Stream, City of Sanctuary UK
  33. Medact
  34. Migrant Voice
  35. Migrants Organise
  36. Migrants’ Rights Network
  37. Music Action International
  38. Pan-African Workers Association (PAWA)
  39. Paul Hamlyn Foundation 
  40. POMOC (Polish Migrants Organise for Change)
  41. Positive Action For Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PAFRAS)
  42. Praxis
  43. Project 17
  44. Public Interest Law Centre
  45. RAMA (Refugee, Asylum seeker & Migrant Action)
  46. Refugee and Migrants Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL)
  47. Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Migrant Action (RAMA)
  48. Reunite Families UK
  49. Right to Remain
  50. Runnymede Trust
  51. Seraphus
  52. South London Refugee Association
  53. The Unity Project
  54. The Voice of Domestic Workers
  55. United impact
  56. We Belong 
  57. Welsh Refugee Council
  58. Women’s Budget Group
  59. Yorkshire Migrants Solidarity Movement
  60. The3million