Mum could be forced to leave UK over NHS surcharge – despite working for service

An NHS worker who has lived in the UK for 18 years says she cannot afford to renew her visa.

Marie Madrid, 33, must pay a £2,600 fee to access the health service she now helps provide and fears she could be asked to leave the country.

Marie, an NHS care navigator, has spent around £12,000 renewing her visa to remain in the UK over the past 10 years, but this time cannot afford the healthcare surcharge, a fee levied on most applicants for them to access public health services.

Marie, who lives with her husband Aled, 30, and 18-month-old son, Cayden, in Conwy, Wales, was not expecting to pay the £2,600 charge, thinking she could apply for indefinite leave to remain, the most secure immigration status in the UK except for British Citizenship.

But in April, 2024, her solicitors broke the news that Marie will have to wait another two years before she can apply to stay in the UK indefinitely, and in the meantime must renew her spouse visa one more time, which includes the NHS fee.

In total, the application will cost around £5,000, including £1,200 in solicitor fees, £1,048 for the visa and £2587.50 for the NHS charge, according to Marie, who fears she could be told to leave the country as she cannot afford it.

The mum, who finally achieved her dream of working for the NHS earlier this year, first applied for a temporary visa in 2014, known as right to remain, before switching to a spousal visa in 2021, not knowing this would delay her indefinite application.

Marie taking her son Cayden for a stroll whilst on maternity leave (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA)

Marie, who has worked in private care for many years, started her new job at the NHS in March, and said she is not yet eligible for the Government’s Health and Care reimbursement scheme, which allows foreign nationals who work in the UK’s health and care sectors to reclaim the surcharge.

“Even though I work for the NHS, I still have to pay the surcharge,” Marie told PA Real Life.

“It doesn’t make sense, because I’m working for them and also pay the tax towards the NHS.

“I’m what you call a care navigator, which means I’m basically the best person to deal with queries from patients.

“My child and husband are safe, because they are British by birth.

“My fear is that I would have to leave my baby and my husband… and it’s not fair, especially because I’ve always tried to do things the right way.”

Her husband Aled added: “If it all goes sour, I will lose my partner, the person I rely on day-to-day.

“I would not be able to survive without her.”

Marie, who was born in Hong Kong when it was still a British colony, moved to Wales in September 2006, where she completed her A-levels before going on to study graphic design at university.

Marie wither her husband Aled and son Cayden in Llandudno, Wales (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA)

In 2014, after an unsuccessful attempt to renew her student visa, Marie applied for leave to remain, which grants people the right to stay in the UK for a limited period of time, usually two to three years.

Her application was accepted which meant Marie could now legally live and work in the UK, and she soon began working as a receptionist at Gala Bingo.

A few years later, in 2017, she met Aled at work and the pair married three years later.

This meant Marie was eligible for a spouse visa, which she obtained in 2021.

“Every time I have to apply for a visa it’s so stressful,” Marie said.

“This year, I was supposed to apply for indefinite leave to remain but apparently I don’t qualify for that anymore.

“It’s really frustrating because we had saved enough money for an indefinite leave to remain visa and they said I didn’t have to pay for the NHS surcharge.

“So imagine my surprise when they said I do, and it’s £2,587.50 this time.”

As of April 2015, those applying for temporary permission to live in the UK must pay an immigration health surcharge in additional to their visa application fee.

The charge, which helps fund the UK’s national health service, has increased from £200 per year to £1,035 per year in 2024.

Marie was first granted a temporary visa 10 years ago and has so far spent £12,000 on visa renewals including the NHS surcharge.

Under this visa scheme, she would now be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain which allows people to stay in the UK for as long as they like.

However, when she got married, she moved onto a spouse visa which has different requirements and her solicitors have confirmed she would have to wait another two years, until 2026, and will therefore have to renew her spouse visa one last time.

Marie and Aled got married in 2020, during the global pandemic (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA)

Marie and her husband had not anticipated this and cannot afford the application plus the £2,600 health care surcharge.

They said the “cost of living” coupled with having to pay £420 a month for nursery has stretched their wages to the limit.

Fearing she could be asked to leave the UK, Marie has launched a fundraiser on GoFundMe which has almost raised £1,400.

Marie, whose parents are from the Philippines, and her husband who was born in Bangor, Wales, took out a mortgage to buy a house in November 2019.

“If everything happened to go badly, how am I going to cope?” Aled said.

“Financially I couldn’t support myself, a child and the house all on one salary.

“I feel like when people have been here long enough to have been paying into the NHS via their National Insurance anyways, I don’t see why they should be paying the surcharge.

“Most people, immigrants and people who were born here, don’t have that sort of income.

“Unfair is a nice way of putting it.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Whilst we recognise the significant contribution migrants make to the UK, it is the Government’s policy that migrants should contribute to the comprehensive and high-quality NHS services available to them from the moment they arrive in the UK.

“Migrants employed in the Health and Social Care Sectors are able to claim reimbursement of the Immigration Health Surcharge paid through the Health and Care reimbursement scheme.”

To support Marie visit her GoFundMe.

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