At present Nationals from other countries who wish to live and work in the UK are required to pay the immigration health surcharge to access the NHS.
Charities across the UK, including the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), have raised concerns about the impact of current health surcharges on overseas volunteers.
Camphill Scotland, the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE), the SCVO, and their partners have said they are worried the current exemption scheme does not include international volunteers.
The group of 52 organisations have said this could have a profound effect on those working in health and social care, and in other charitable settings, for charities in the UK.
Nationals from other countries who wish to live and work in the UK are, subject to certain exceptions, required to pay the immigration health surcharge in order to access services under the NHS.
The UK Government has granted an exemption from paying the Immigration Health Surcharge to health and social care employees from other countries.
The organisations are now campaigning to ensure that the surcharge exemption is extended.
The focus of the campaign has now turned to the House of Lords, where Lord German, a Liberal Democrat Peer, has tabled an amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill, which will extend the immigration health surcharge exemption to international volunteers.
Sofie, an international volunteer at Tiphereth, a Camphill community in Edinburgh, described the impact of the immigration health surcharge, and the advantages of extending the immigration health surcharge exemption to international volunteers.
She said: “When you discover that you have to pay over 700€ it is shocking news. Young people wishing to volunteer might consider going to another country when they discover they have to pay this.
“If someone asked me now where they should do a volunteer year I would not recommend the UK. Extending the immigration health surcharge exemption to international volunteers would make the UK more attractive, and friendlier for international volunteer workers.
“The country benefits from volunteer workers because we make an important contribution in health and social care and in many other key areas. So more should be done to make it easier for us to come to the UK to volunteer.
“Extending the immigration health surcharge exemption to international volunteers would be an important step in the right direction”.
The proposal has been tabled on behalf of Camphill Scotland, the ALLIANCE, SCVO, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), YMCA Ireland, Volunteer Now (Northern Ireland), the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA), the Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) and others.
Lord German’s amendment will extend the immigration health surcharge exemption to all international volunteers working as volunteers for charities in the UK, and to those seeking to apply for visas to work as volunteers for charities in the UK.
Concerns remain that the surcharge exemption will, in the future, deter international volunteers from working as volunteers for charities in the UK in health and social care, and in other charitable settings.
This, in turn, will impact upon the capacity of UK charities to, for example, provide care and support, and education, to disabled people and to people with other support needs.
It will also impact upon the capacity of charities across the UK in other settings, including youth work and other services supporting young people.
Dr Donald MacAskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, highlighted the significant contribution made by international volunteers.
He said: “Scottish Care fully supports the proposed amendment. Volunteers who work in social care have been for many years of tremendous importance to the delivery of critical care in our communities.
‘The Health Surcharge has acted as a real disincentive, and we hope its removal will encourage recruitment into charitable and social care settings. This practical measure will be of very real benefit.”