NHS trusts have paid more than £15 million to hire specialist foreign workers in the last three years, according to new figures.
Analysis of data released under Freedom of Information laws to the Labour Party suggested that since 2017, 52 trusts paid £15,549,944 to the Government through the immigration skills charge.
Employers may have to pay the immigration skills charge for each foreign worker they employ, costing about £1,000 for the first 12 months for a medium or large sponsor.
Shadow immigration minister Holly Lynch accused the Conservatives of “punishing hospital budgets for their own failure to train enough skilled staff”.
Labour asked 224 NHS hospital trusts how much they are paying to the Government in the immigration skills charge, when forced to recruit overseas specialists. Fifty two trusts responded to the request.
Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust had paid the most – £2,007,000 since 2017 – among those that responded, the party said.
Ms Lynch described the immigration skills charge as a “stealth tax on our NHS”.
“Local NHS trusts require specialists from overseas, yet the Tories are punishing hospital budgets for their own failure to train enough skilled staff,” she said.
“The irrationality of the immigration skills charge for NHS trusts has been underlined by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Conservative Government should be doing all they can to support the NHS. Instead, they are presenting trusts with an unenviable choice: either leave life-saving specialist roles unfilled, or fork out expensive fees for overseas staff.”
A Government spokesman said: “Right across the immigration system we are supporting frontline healthcare staff through initiatives such as visa extensions and the creation of the bereavement scheme.
“We are incredibly grateful for all the hard work that health workers and care workers continue to do in the fight against coronavirus.
“We’ve already taken steps to support the NHS during the pandemic by removing the skills charge for employers when automatically renewing visas.
“Our new points-based immigration system, for introduction from January 2021, will go even further to make sure the NHS and wider health and care sector can continue to access the best and brightest talent from across the world.”