NEARLY 3000 migrant NHS workers will have their visas extended for one year amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Home Office has said.

About 2800 doctors, nurses and paramedics, whose visas are due to expire before October 1, will be able to stay in the UK to help in the fight against Covid-19.

The Home Office added it had lifted restrictions on how many hours student medics can work in the NHS, and overseas nurses will be given further time to pass their skills tests so they can focus on the response to the coronavirus.

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Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Doctors, nurses and paramedics from all over the world are playing a leading role in the NHS’s efforts to tackle coronavirus and save lives. We owe them a great deal of gratitude for all that they do.

“I don’t want them distracted by the visa process. That is why I have automatically extended their visas – free of charge – for a further year.”

Some have questioned the timing of such a move, coming just weeks after pre-Covid-19 announcements of strict immigration rule changes.

Actor David Schneider took to Twitter to point out the issue. He wrote: “Home Office till March 2020: ‘Go home!’ ‘Hostile environment!’ ‘Control immigration!’ ‘Take back control of our borders!’ ‘Clamp down on immigrants!’ March 2020: ‘Stay! Stay!’”

Others felt just a one-year extension wasn’t enough. National columnist Kirsty Strickland wrote: “They’re risking their lives to save others and the best the gov can come up with is a one year extension?”

Activist Jonathon Shafi agreed, posting: "We must all fight for a permanent extension. Racists can take a hike."

Colin Yeo, editor at the Free Movement website, was concerned that the extension only applies to NHS staff. He said: “Good news BUT this suggests automatic extensions for other migrants are not going to happen, and I’m not convinced the Home Office has lawfully extended visas so far - seems to need a statutory instrument and they haven’t passed one. Home Office really needs to get this right.”

There are now more than 22,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, and the peak is expected in about two or three weeks.

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