The government has announced plans to make it more difficult for irregular migrants to live in the UK and access health care.
The move is also meant to ensure legal migrants make a fair contribution to UK’s key public services have been launched.
Currently, short term migrants coming to study or work with more than six months on their visas are likely to qualify for free hospital care as soon as they enter the UK.
The government holds that a charge would ensure that migrants contribute towards the cost of their healthcare while not increasing red tape and administration for NHS professionals.
A consultation on plans to introduce the levy as an upfront charge and whether private health insurance could be a good alternative has been launched. A levy could be paid at the time of applying for their visa or further stay for non EEA temporary residents who are allowed to stay for up to five years.
Views will be sought on the level at which this levy should be set and how private insurance could play a role.
The consultation proposes stopping those visiting for less than six months from getting free access to GP surgeries by introducing charging, as currently used in hospitals.
It also proposes a new registration and tracking system for chargeable visitors before they first join a GP surgery – possibly linked to the NHS number, alongside better checks to enforce charges for care in both hospitals and sustainable primary care.
The government said the consultation aims to create a system that is fair for everyone without denying treatment to those whose health is in immediate danger or a risk to public health.
Proposals also include improving the way the NHS claims back EEA visitors’ treatment from their home countries; and giving expatriate UK citizens access to free NHS care after they have paid up to 10 years of National Insurance contributions.
It is unclear how widely migrants use the NHS and the true cost and impact they have. In order to gain a better understanding the Department of Health has commissioned an independent audit of use by visitors and temporary migrants that will run alongside the consultation and report back in September.
The government also plans to introduce a requirement for landlords to check the immigration status of tenants. Enforcement officers will be allowed to take additional action against rogue landlords who will face a penalty for breaking the rules.
The government proposes a graduated enforcement approach – with proportionate penalties for those landlords who make a single honest mistake, and much heavier penalties, up to £3,000 per tenant, for rogue landlords who repeatedly and deliberately break the law.
The Home Office also plans to offer landlords support in checking documents through an enquiry service.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We are clear that the NHS is a national health service not an international health service and I am determined to cut out abuse in the system.
“We need to ensure that those residing in or visiting the UK are contributing to the system, but we want work to implement a system that limits red tape and administration for NHS professionals.”
Immigration Minister Mark Harper said the government was “determined to build a fairer system and to address the public’s concern about immigration.”
He confirmed that the proposals will form part of the Immigration Bill to be introduced later this year. The bill, he said, “will tighten immigration law, strengthen our enforcement powers and clamp down on those from overseas who try to abuse our public services.”
Mr. Harper added that by reducing access to free NHS care and rented accommodation for irregular migrants, they “will make it more difficult for them to stay in the country leading to more returns and removals.”