Should the Government start charging UK migrants a health surcharge on their visa?

New Zealanders and Australians wanting to spend more than six months in the United Kingdom on their OE will soon have to ...

New Zealanders and Australians wanting to spend more than six months in the United Kingdom on their OE will soon have to pay a health charge worth hundreds of dollars.

OPINION: If the United Kingdom begins charging New Zealanders a surcharge to fund their free National Health System, then New Zealand should do the same in reciprocity. 

The UK Government has announced that New Zealanders staying in the UK for more than six months, will be required to pay a surcharge for access to the NHS.

This will be $328 for New Zealanders on the Youth Mobility Scheme or student visas, and $437 for New Zealanders on other visas for more than six months.

Prime Minister John Key has expressed his disappointment in the move, which he branded as "pretty cheap" and "not in keeping with the history of the two countries". 

He's right.

The latest figures from the UK's Office for National Statstics place about 63,000 New Zealanders living over there - about 0.09 per cent of their 63.4 million population. 

According to Statistics New Zealand, UK citizens living in New Zealand numbered about 265,500 or 5.7 per cent of our population. 

It's pittance for the UK, but the same policy applied here could add up to $115.2m to our cash-strapped health budget.

Besides that, there has to a be a point where we stop rolling over. 

This is somewhat different to the erosion of New Zealand's rights to welfare assistance and a pathway to citizenship in Australia. 

Our Government in that situation, has been reluctant to fire reciprocal shots to Australians living in New Zealand.

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Partly because that particular burden here is far less, but to do so would be to effectively stamp an end on the fight for better rights for around 600,000 New Zealanders living in Australia. 

We've also not gone that route because New Zealand is not the kind of nation to leave any resident without financial or social support, no matter where they come from.

With the UK however, this is less about a moral or ethical stance; rather, it's a NHS in crisis. 

Granted, our public health system is not in quite the same level of funding disaster the NHS is in, but not even the Government would argue it could do with some extra cash.

What's odd, is the speed with which this unliateral decision appears to have been dumped on the Government. 

It's unclear how long the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been negotiating on this, but officials and ministers alike all seem rather surprised. 

It's understood the first many MPs heard of it, was when a letter was sent to them last week from the British High Commissioner in New Zealand, explaining the change. 

Given the Prime Minister's close and personal relationship with UK Prime Minister David Cameron, it raises the question of when New Zealand was first made aware of the decision, and what lobbying officials were ever able to do on our behalf. 

MFAT say a review of the wider health care agreement between the UK and NZ will start shortly, which covers New Zealanders in the UK for less than six months.

These negotiations have not yet started, but already it's difficult to imagine them being carried out in good faith. 

 - Stuff


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