Immigrant Doctors Support UK's Pandemic Battle
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Foreign-born Healthcare Workers To Rescue A Pandemic Struck UK

Updated on May 13, 2020 12:34 pm
Doctors in UK

The UK has a long tradition of foreign healthcare workers working in its healthcare system. In times of any medical or health emergencies such as the current Coronavirus pandemic, migrant health workers have brought enormous talent to fill the shortages.

Immigration and NHS

The UK is heavily dependent on its migrant healthcare workers including nurses and doctors. The proportion of doctors in the NHS  who have trained abroad was 28.4% in 2019, in the same year, 20.1% of GPs in England qualified outside the UK. 

Nationality of Doctors

According to NHS data, 13% (15,019) doctors in UK hospitals report an Asian nationality, of which almost two-thirds are Indian or Pakistani. Anyone wanting to work in the UK as a doctor must have registration with a license to legally practice medicine issued by the General Medical Council (GMC)

There is a long tradition in the UK of recruiting migrant labor into the NHS to fill nursing vacancies. The recruitment of nurses from overseas has increased in recent years as part of a Department of Health drive to address staff shortages. There are now more than 35 000 new overseas nurses who have registered since 2000, According to Nursing and Midwifery Council, 2004.

Nationality of nurses

According to NHS data, 21,930, which is 7.1%  of nurses report an Asian nationality. Of these, 92% are either Filipino or Indian. Anyone wanting to work in the UK as a nurse must register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)

Furthermore, 13.3% of NHS staff are reported to be of non-British nationality or from BAME backgrounds (Black, Asian or minority ethnic); most of them working in hospitals and community services in England.  

Recognizing this close relationship between NHS and migrant healthcare workers, we shall now look at how the present COVID-19 pandemic poses a challenge for these foreign health workers in the UK.

COVID-19 pandemic and foreign health workers

The spread of COVID-19 across the UK fuelled with the shortage of medical professionals have even made retired doctors of foreign origin join hands with the NHS. 

Foreign-born health care workers are now at the front lines of treating the COVID-19 pandemic in hospitals and community care homes. Migrants are more likely to be on the frontlines of COVID-19 response. Not just in the UK but in other developed countries around the world. For instance, 6 million immigrant workers are at the frontlines of keeping U.S. residents healthy and fed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the lack of supply of medical equipment including Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), Healthcare workers are in vulnerable categories as much as the COVID-19 patients. Indian-origin doctors that make up a massive majority of the NHS, are already victims of the deadly virus in the UK.

By April 2020, 492 doctors of Indian origin have died in England; the current government is trying to provide a free extension of visa for immigrant doctors and health workers as well as support compensation for those who have lost their lives in the line of their duties, however, with 2 months into the COVID-19 crisis in Britain, a third of the NHS staff have tested positive for the virus. 

Workforce challenges and shortages in the NHS are going to take a significant toll on the health and well-being of not only the doctors and medical staff but on the healthcare system overall.

Government measures

The UK government has announced an automatic visa extension for a year that applies to visas were due to expire before October 1 of 2020. This move will impact around 2,800 migrant healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, and paramedics employed by the NHS as the UK fights the coronavirus pandemic. Visa fees and restrictions have been one of the biggest roadblocks for healthcare workers. 

Migrant healthcare workers are dying more. 

A recent report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in Britain had brought out that BAME and Indian-origin patients are more susceptible to developing more severe symptoms of coronavirus and dying of Covid-19. The same report outlines that Indians account for 483 or 3.77 % while Bangladeshis and Pakistanis together accounted for 386 or 3.01 % of the total deaths of all the coronavirus deaths in the UK. Many of the victims were health workers prompting various ethnic coalitions to intervene and calling for the government to launch an independent inquiry. 

Remittances and migrant workers

Countries like India, Philippines, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal are the top recipient of remittances. Remittances are also one of the highest foreign exchange-earners accounting for the huge contribution to the GDP. For instance, remittance accounts for 30% of Nepal’s GDP. 


The UK is a major contributor to remittances that has lifted millions of households from poverty and many families still rely on remittances to sustain. The UK sends twice as much money abroad than it receives during normal times. Although, remittances sent by family and friends have been counter-cyclical, World Bank predicts a 20% decline following the pandemic induced recession.


Migration Observatory’s survey on remittances from the UK suggest that the purpose of remittance varies substantially across migrant/ethnic group. For example, non-EU migrants living in the UK are twice as likely to send remittances to friends and families than those born in the EU.

While the impacts of the COVID 19 crisis on remittance flows are bleak. Digital money transfer platforms like Remitly and Moneygram have recorded a record high transactions during these lockdown periods. The best and the only way to send money from the UK internationally is online. We have also identified the top money transfer companies here. 

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