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Why UK'S New Healthcare Charge Is Unfair To International Students

09/05/2015 8:39 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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This year's General Election in the UK has been closely watched by all. This time, immigration and the National Health Service (NHS) have been the front-runner topics of debate for all the main parties. Both the Tories and the Labour party have concentrated their campaign on decreasing immigration and better funding the NHS.

Incumbent Prime Minister David Cameron has tried to ring in more votes for the Conservative party by pledging to "clamp down on benefits tourism and health tourism", so that only those who "work hard and contribute to our society" are welcomed into Britain. The Tories have also promised £8 billion a year for the NHS, as have the Liberal Democrats.

The Labour party's leader Ed Miliband has maintained pace with the Tories in this regard and said immigration must be "properly controlled and managed" and that he will "boost" the NHS by investing an extra £2.5 billion should he win the elections.

So was the government trying to fill two needs with one deed when it passed a legislation introducing a health surcharge for non-EEA (European Economic Area) users? Until the first week of April, NHS services were free for all UK residents and non-UK residents alike.

"This new legislation now requires non-EEA citizens to pay a yearly fee to the NHS-- £200 if you are coming to live and work in the UK, and £150 if you are a student."

This new legislation now requires non-EEA citizens to pay a yearly fee to the NHS-- £200 if you are coming to live and work in the UK, and £150 if you are a student.

There are certain exemptions to this broad category of people that include Australian and New Zealand citizens.

James Brokenshire, the Minister for Security and Immigration said: "The current rules of entitlement to free NHS care are generous and that generosity comes at a price to the UK taxpayer."

And according to a press statement released by the government, the cost of using the NHS by "overseas visitors and migrants is estimated to £2 billion a year - with £950 million of this being spent on temporary, non-EEA workers and students".

It specified that international students use the NHS "extensively" which costs the "British taxpayer about £430 million a year."

It was not just the Tories who were in favour of this bill - in fact, Labour party's David Hanson said this charge for certain groups was "reasonable". And DUP's Jim Shannon said he "welcomes this legislation".

According to the government's estimate, this charge could raise approximately £1.7 billion in 10 years.

But it is worth examining whether the introduction of this charge is reasonable considering the billions of pounds international students already contribute to the UK economy.

In an e-mail, the International Student Officer of the National Union of Students (NUS), Shreya Paudel, said it was "ironic" that international students who contribute so much are not considered to be contributing to the NHS.

" With international students injecting millions of pounds into the British economy, it makes one wonder why political parties seem to be so disinterested in attracting their business."

She said: "The NHS fee is one of many measures that negatively affect international students... The government is unfairly targeting a group in British society that contributes a phenomenal amount to the British education sector, economy and to local communities. The NUS remains concerned that the Government is yet again closing the door on international students."

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) revealed that 19,750 Indian students came to pursue education in the UK in the year 2013-14. In the year 2012-13, the total number of non-EU full-time students added up to 106,060.

Non-EU students who come to the UK to pursue an undergraduate programme pay anything between £30,000-£50,000 pounds, and those who take up a master's degree pay an average tuition fee of £17,000. The tuition fee for international students is three times more than home or EU citizens.

With international students injecting millions of pounds into the British economy, it makes one wonder why political parties seem to be so disinterested in attracting their business.

British Future in an August 2014 report, "International students and UK immigrations Debate", revealed that 47% of UKIP, 23% of Tories, 18% of Labour and 6% of Lib Dem members wanted to reduce the level of non-EU students coming into the UK.

Their report also revealed that in 2011-12, non-EU students contributed £7 billion to the economy. This amount is seven times more than what they cost the NHS. In fact, in a study by Sheffield University and Oxford Economics, it was revealed that international students pumped approximately £136 million into the Yorkshire and Humber region through living costs and other expenditure. And this substantial figure only represents one region of the country. The amount of money that international students bring into the entire country is colossal.

In an e-mail, the University of Sheffield's International Student officer, José Joaquín Díaz de Aguilar Puiggari, said, "This shortsighted vision may have a negative impact in the future if the government does not start recognising our value."

He also said that this new legislation is "just another irrational measure they introduced in the 2014 Immigration Act that treats international students as cash cows of the British economy."

A survey conducted by the NUS revealed that for international students, "free access to healthcare free healthcare was either important or very important in their decision to study in the UK". A little food for thought for the government to nibble over.

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