Six thousand foreign medics will have their UK visas extended for a year to help battle coronavirus over winter.
Nurses, doctors, midwives and paramedics whose right to work in the country was due to expire before 31 March 2021 are among those who will benefit, as well as any children they have up to the age of 18.
They have all made “huge contributions” during the COVID-19 pandemic and will have their visas extended for free – but still need to fill in a form to prove their identity, said Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Ministers were commended for the move, but told hardworking NHS and private healthcare workers should “never have had to worry about their immigration status” in the first place.
It follows a similar decision earlier this year for foreign medics whose visas were due to expire between 31 March and 1 October.
But the UK has plunged into a second wave of coronavirus.
There were another 22,915 infections reported by the government on Thursday – taking the total to 1,453,256.
Another 501 fatalities were also recorded, meaning there have been 53,775 since the pandemic began – though the UK’s statistics agencies say the number of people who have COVID-19 on their death certificate is over 68,000.
In a bid to keep health services running and staffed as much as possible, the government has extended visas for 6,000 people for whom they were soon due to expire.
The full list of eligible staff is: Biological scientists and biochemists, physical scientists, medical practitioners, psychologists, pharmacists, ophthalmic opticians, dental practitioners, medical radiographers, podiatrists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, nurses, midwives, social workers and paramedics.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, head of the British Medical Association, said he was glad the government listened to the calls to remove the “unnecessary, bureaucratic and costly barrier” for healthcare workers during “an incredibly difficult winter”.
“Our international colleagues have worked tirelessly and selflessly during the pandemic, providing care and support as we all faced unprecedented challenges,” he said.
“This often came at the expense of their own health and wellbeing, and as we know, in too many cases, we have seen staff who came from overseas to look after people in this country tragically lose their own lives to COVID-19.
“We owe this vital group of staff a huge debt of gratitude and they should never have had to worry about their immigration status as they fought this virus on the frontline.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was “hugely grateful for all of the frontline health and social care workers from overseas who have worked tirelessly to save lives and provide the best possible care during this global pandemic”.
And he added: “This visa extension will help to benefit healthcare professionals who have shown extraordinary dedication during this challenging period to protect all of us and our families from the threat of the virus.”