Frontline health workers from overseas will be given a free one-year UK visa extension, the Home Office says.
The move applies to eligible workers whose visas are due to run out before 1 October 2021 and their dependants.
The list of professions covered includes doctors, nurses, paramedics and midwives, with 14,000 people expected to benefit.
But Unison said the move should be extended to care workers who had “been overlooked again”.
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The Home Office first granted free automatic visa extensions to health workers in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK.
The offer was initially limited to NHS doctors, nurses and paramedics whose visas ran out between 31 March 2020 and 1 October 2020, but it was later extended to include more professions.
The department said more than 10,000 had received the extension last year, but this latest announcement would affect a further 14,000 workers.
A health and care worker visa normally costs £232 per person for up to three years or £464 per person for three to five years. It must be extended after five years, or if the worker changes jobs.
The visa is £55 cheaper if the applicant is from one of the eligible European countries.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The dedication and skill of overseas health and care workers who are leading the UK’s fight against coronavirus is truly extraordinary.”
She said they were now helping with the vaccine roll-out, and the visa extension “shows how our country values the contributions of these heroes”.
Calls to extend
Workers need to fill out an online form to verify their identity, but there will be no fees to pay.
The visa extensions will also apply to their partners and any children aged under 18.
But while the announcement has been welcomed, some have questioned why care workers are not included on the list of professions.
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said thousands of NHS workers would be “relieved” by the news.
“Many have faced huge stresses and pushed themselves to the limit to treat and look after us all,” she added. “It’s only right the government looks after them and makes their lives a little easier by granting free visas.”
But she criticised care workers being “overlooked”, saying the scheme “should extend to all employees in health and care, particularly the lowest paid who need this help the most”.