The UK government has announced this week a proposal for a new immigration bill aimed at making it more difficult for undocumented migrants to live in the country, and at addressing the perceived problem of ‘health tourism’ by charging migrants for the use of primary health care services.

Furthermore, under the proposals, private landlords will be required to verify the immigration status of their tenants, with fines applicable to landlords for renting property to undocumented migrants. Meanwhile, increased checks and records on users of the National Health Service (NHS) will aim at preventing undocumented migrants from accessing free health provisions. A charge for accessing a General Practitioners’ surgeries will also apply to regular non-EU migrants. The proposal does note, however, that “it is unclear how widely migrants use the NHS and the true cost and impact they have”.

Refugee Action and the British Refugee Council have reacted to the proposal, highlighting the fact that asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected but who are unable to be removed from the country, and who often live in destitution, will be affected by the removal of access to free primary health care. Chief Executive of the British Refugee Council Maurice Wren argues that this will be economically counter-productive, as unwell asylum seekers in this position will simply wait longer before turning to emergency health provisions, which remain free of charge but which are more expensive to provide for the state.

The UK government has launched a consultation on migrants’ access to the NHS and another on tackling undocumented migrants in privately rented accommodation.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 05 July 2013
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