Thousands of frontline health workers and their families will be granted visa extensions, the Home Office has announced.
One-year visa extensions will be automatically granted free of charge to eligible overseas health and care workers whose visas were due to expire before October 2 this year.
Since starting the free extensions last year, the Home Office has extended the visas of more than 10,000 people across the UK.
The Home Office said Friday’s announcement could benefit a further 14,000 people.
“Thousands of them have helped save countless lives throughout this pandemic and are now playing a vital part in the hugely successful vaccination rollout.
“Our offer of free visa extensions shows how our country values the contributions of these heroes.”
The extension will cover healthcare professionals working in the NHS and the independent health and care sector.
They include doctors, nurses, paramedics, midwives, occupational therapists and psychologists, among other professions.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Our overseas health and care workers make such a vital contribution to our health system and have been a key part of the fight against the pandemic.
“They are protecting our loved ones and vaccinating the public so that we can save lives and return to normality.
“To help those staff from overseas, we are extending their visas to provide security while they continue to tackle this virus.”
However, trade union Unison said the care sector “has been overlooked again” and called on the Government to extend the scheme for all employees in health and care, particularly “the lowest paid who need this help the most”.
Unison’s general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Thousands of NHS workers will be relieved they don’t face hefty bills to continue providing vital services across the UK.
“Many have faced huge stresses and pushed themselves to the limit to treat and look after us all.
“It’s only right the Government looks after them and makes their lives a little easier by granting free visas.”