UK’s new health surcharge for Australian and NZ visa applicants criticised

by Ray Clancy on February 10, 2016

The Prime Minister of New Zealand has hit out the UK over plans to make anyone from outside the European Union who wishes to stay in the country for more than six months pay towards their healthcare.

From April 2016 visa holders from New Zealand and Australia, both of whom have large expat populations in the UK, will be asked to pay a surcharge of £150 to £200 a year.

It will affect those who apply for a visa to stay for longer than six months and expats already in the UK who apply for an extension to an existing visa.

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John Key, the New Zealand prime minister, said the charge represented the “chipping away” of New Zealanders’ rights in the UK. He hinted that it upsets an historic relationship between the two countries based on New Zealand being a former British colony.

“I would have thought charging Kiwis £150 if they’re over there for a bit longer as a surcharge, over and above the national health system, is pretty cheap and not really in keeping with the history of the two countries,” he said but added that he would not seek to introduce anything similar for British people in New Zealand.

British people going to New Zealand and Australia do not face such a surcharge. Currently under the existing reciprocal agreement Britons travelling to Australia can stay in hospital free of charge and receive subsidised medicines and GP visits while those in New Zealand can receive free care even for existing medical conditions. In both countries, there is a part charge for GP visits for all patients, including locals.

The surcharge already applies to people from some countries outside of the EU but it is now being expanded to Australia and New Zealand as it is regarded as a good way to help the National Health Service meet the extra costs of healthcare for foreign nationals.

There has been a lot of concern in the UK that people arrive in the country as so called “health tourists” who take advantage of the free healthcare system. The new surcharge has raised more than £100 million in six months so it is being extended.

It does not apply to those coming to the UK for six months or less, or those visiting the UK with a visitor visa an d they will still be fully liable for the cost of any National Health Service treatment they receive during their stay in the UK.

Immigration minister James said that it is “only fair” that Australians and New Zealanders contribute to the NHS. “By keeping the surcharge at a competitive level, we are also recognising the contribution temporary migrants make to the wider economy,” he explained.

There is also disquiet among Australians and people from New Zealand that the UK has cut the cost of visas for Chinese citizens from £324 to £85, meaning they pay a lot less than those from down under.

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