Originally in Huffington Post
Over 24 million of us listened to the Queen talk on Sunday evening about how history will regard our generation. Particularly, we will remember the sacrifices made by everyone to preserve and protect our society, especially the most vulnerable people within it. As she said, the success of beating Covid-19 “will belong to every one of us.”
Perhaps more than any other group, our brave NHS workers will be remembered for their efforts during this time. They, and other key frontline workers, deserve to be recognised for their actions, and this should include: medals; pay rises; better investment into the public services they keep running; and a greater appreciation for the work they do. I have also called for a Coronavirus Compensation Scheme to ensure that should the worst happen, their families are taken care of.
These aren’t rewards, they are the least we can do.
Our key workers from overseas, in particular, should also be recognised for their service to our country by being given automatic indefinite leave to remain in the UK and citizenship should they desire it.
There are more than 153,000 staff from overseas working inside the NHS, with one in four hospital staff from outside the UK. They, along with all other key workers, are putting their lives on the line to help our country. It would be a scandal equivalent to Windrush or the Gurkhas should any one of them be ordered to leave the UK after we’re through the worst of this crisis.
Rather than looking back in hindsight, it would be a truly wonderful thing to acknowledge people’s achievements in real time. We must recognise their service, and provide them with the security they deserve: to call the UK their home, indefinitely.
This would avoid causing any additional distress and anxiety to those at the forefront of this crisis; from those in low paid work, to our very top medical professionals.
In practice, those who do not possess permanent resident status should be granted this recognition by the government. Also, any applications for citizenship should be automatically accepted.
Now is very much the time to see an end to the hostile environment that the Home Office has cultivated over the last five years and to do away with the term ‘low-skilled migrant’.
Now is the time to open our arms to those who are putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our loved ones. Holding the hands of infected patients taking their last breaths, and providing comfort for others, even when the staff are separated from their own families. This is a service like no other.
Where you were born should not provide you with any advantage or disadvantage over your colleagues when it comes to calling the UK your home. We are all in this together. And that togetherness, that team mentality that we are seeing all around the country, has been inspired by our support for the NHS and our awe at their unity and courage.
It is difficult for many at this point to think very far ahead, but that is the job of lawmakers and politicians like myself. The Lib Dems, including my colleague and Home Affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine, have already called for indefinite leave to remain for NHS workers. And we could extend this even further, to offer indefinite leave and citizenship to all key workers from overseas.
We mustn’t let this be an afterthought. It should be an honour for the UK government to grant residency and citizenship to all key workers from overseas that seek it. It is the very least we can do, in repayment for their service and sacrifices.