New Clause 14 - Immigration health surcharge: exemption for international volunteers

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 4 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:00, 4 Tachwedd 2021

I beg to move that the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause would introduce an immigration health surcharge exemption for international volunteers. On this occasion, I am particularly indebted to Camphill Scotland, which does fantastic work to support around 600 people with learning disabilities and other support needs, ranging from children to older people. It has built a formidable alliance of almost 50 organisations across the UK that support this new clause, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action and many, many more which, unfortunately, I do not have time to mention. All members of the Committee will have received briefings and representations directly on this issue, and I urge them to consider it carefully.

My party objects to the immigration health surcharge altogether, but that debate is for another day. What we do welcome, as do the organisations behind this new clause, is the Government’s decision to exempt health and social care workers from other countries from paying it. The new clause seeks to ensure that those who want to come to work as volunteers in the charitable sector, including in health and social care, are also exempt. We believe that charging this surcharge to volunteers working in health and social care in charitable settings is unfair, inequitable and counterproductive. Volunteers from the EU and beyond make a significant contribution to the work of charities across the UK; Camphill Scotland currently has about 215 international volunteers, helping it to support people with learning disabilities and other support needs.

These young people have chosen to stay in the UK to provide social care to UK citizens during a national health emergency, displaying considerable dedication to and compassion for the people they support. It would be an injustice if the immigration health surcharge exemption was not extended to international volunteers working in the charitable sector. It is all the more essential that this change is made post Brexit, with volunteers from the EU and Switzerland now being caught by visa fees and other expenses. If we cannot continue to attract volunteers, the people who will suffer will be those who benefit from their care, including those with learning disabilities and support needs in the care of Camphill Scotland. The logic of the Government’s immigration health surcharge is that everyone should contribute but, just like the health and social care workforce, the volunteers are already doing just that, so surely the same logic applies. Given that such volunteers cannot have a salary here and will receive a subsistence allowance at most, there is even more reason to exempt them altogether. They are already facing considerable costs to take up these posts. It cannot be right that we also charge them a surcharge to support the very system that they are currently voluntarily supporting. I therefore ask the Minister to consider the representations made by the almost 50 organisations that have contacted him, to consider meeting them and to look carefully at these proposals.