LIFE IN LONDON – Part 19: Beware of immigration racketeers!
Posted on March 14th, 2013

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Quite often when someone comes to know that I had lived in the UK, the obvious interest that pops up is to find out about the possibilities finding some kind of employment in Britain. No matter to what extent one tries to explain the realities behind immigration control, and how difficult it is to do so in the present climate, the penny does not seem to drop almost in all the cases; Instead there is always the likelihood of being misunderstood by the enquirer.

A few who disregarded sincere advice and got caught to immigration racketeers have had to repent and admit their folly of being conceited over their own decisions once they had to struggle for survival along with mental turbulence of not being certain of their future stay in the UK. Usually immigration queries at the Home Office take time due to Officers having to deal with multiple of cases not only from Sri Lanka but from many parts of the world.

What is a NI number

One advice to people who are inclined to immigrate or even go on holiday is to bear in mind that in the UK, what is known as a National Insurance number is indispensable to qualify for medical facilities. Even in the case of a visitor there are no free medical facilities unless it is an “ƒ”¹…”emergency life saving case!’

The National Insurance Number is personal and unique. It is sent automatically at the age of 16, to those who are born in the UK, which should be kept safely throughout the rest of one’s life. It certifies that the National Insurance contributions and taxes are paid properly and are recorded against the recipient’s name. Also it acts as a reference number when communicating with the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs.

First things first

The first thing an Immigrant should do is to register with a GP (General Practitioner) in the area one lives to avail oneself of free health care. During the registration process one needs to produce the passport to ensure that the person is legally entitled to receive benefits from the National Health Service. Full time students need to produce a letter from the seat of learning confirming their student status.

The classification of a full time “ƒ”¹…”student’ in Britain is one who is diligently engaged in studies covering fifteen hours a week. The privilege we (as students) used to enjoy during our student days of 20 hours or more working allowance has now been drastically reduced to 10 hours (for undergraduates!) making students’ lives in England much harder forcing their parents or guardians to fund them to help them continue with their studies.

The influx of immigrants to the UK over the last two decades and those seeking refuge has compelled the British authorities to close the net on illegal employment, moonlighting and abuse of the Health Services generously by foreigners.

At one time pregnant women arrived in England on holiday, mainly from neighbouring Western countries (prior to EU membership) during their confinement, to give birth to children with the hope of their children becoming “ƒ”¹…”British Citizens’ automatically. Similarly, many relatives of those who had permanent resident status have abused the National Health Service by coming over as visitors and enjoying free medical facilities.

Such abuses have made the simple application of obtaining a National Insurance number a more complex issue for “ƒ”¹…”foreigners’! An employer would today ask for one’s NI number to offer even a part time job for a student. Many have in the past taken letters from “ƒ”¹…”would be’ employers and hoodwinked the authorities which has made the Law to become rigid. Any illegal worker found today has no option but to face deportation orders while the employer also having to pay a heavy fine. This is a vital advice to those who are contemplating to enter Britain through illegal means and through bogus immigration racketeers.

Present regulations demand an applicant to seek an ‘Evidence of Identity’ interview with the closest “ƒ”¹…”Job centre’ (the Department for Work and Pensions, Disability and Caretakers Service office with documentation such as passport, original birth and/or marriage certificate to support one’s application. During the interview the applicant will face questions about the applicant’s background and as to why he needs a NI number etc.

NI contributions

All employed persons or self-employed have to make a contribution towards the National Insurance from the age of 16 until one attains the State Pension age. From December 2018, the State Pension age for women and men will gradually increase from 65 and reach 66 by October 2020.

The National Insurance Contributions (NIC) component is paid by employees and employers on related earnings as a boost up. The self-employed contribute partly by a fixed, weekly or monthly payment, and partly on a percentage of net profits above a certain threshold. Individuals may also make voluntary contributions, in order to fill a gap in their contributions record and thus protect their entitlement to benefits. HM Revenue and Customs collect contributions through the PAYE (pay as you earn system), along with Income Tax and repayments of Student Loans.

First introduced by the Labour government in 1948 it was regarded as a contributory system of insurance against illness and unemployment, but subsequently it has been extended to provide retirement pensions and other benefits. Under the National Insurance Act of 1911, it has gone through a metamorphosis in subsequent years.

All employers deduct the National Insurance contribution and applicable income tax from the employees’ pay packet. The benefit component comprises a number of contributory benefits of availability and the amount is determined by the claimant’s contribution record and circumstances throughout including weekly income benefits and some lump-sum benefits to participants upon death, retirement, unemployment, maternity and disability.

Students working legally within the framework of the law will have to automatically pay income tax on a PAYE system, but are exempt from any tax up to a threshold which is a standard statutory instrument.

Once a student starts working and the employer deducts tax, the relevant Tax Office will link students’ NI number and send a tax return which needs to be filled by the student (like anyone else) and an individual tax code is allocated depending upon one’s circumstances, which varies if one is single or married – married having a greater threshold before paying tax.

One important factor that most of the students (who pay income tax) are not aware of is the verity that at the end of a tax year (March 4) one can write to one’s tax office quoting one’s reference number and get an assessment of tax for the year just ended. This will give an indication as to whether one had paid in excess of tax, in which case the Inland Revenue Department will automatically send a cheque as a refund for any excessive tax that had been deducted during that period. Many students who studied in the UK have returned after studying for three – four years and having paid a lot of tax without obtaining such refunds due to ignorance and lack of knowledge on the issue!

National Health Insurance covers a member to have the same health care facility in any one of the European Union member countries, the only requirement being to obtain a specific Health Travel Form before any travel out of Britain.

For the affluent that prefer to have an additional health insurance cover there are number of reputed International Health Insurers in operation. These companies have worldwide emergency medical centres staffed with teams of experienced, multi-lingual advisers offering customers support and advice on 24 hours a day service throughout the year.

With multiple hospitals and clinics operating on direct settlement agreements for in-patient and day care treatment, pre-authorisation of treatment can commence by telephone, fax, email or iPhone (where a ‘facilities finder app’ ) lets the member know instantly where one could go for treatment anywhere in the world. The only drawback in the National Health Service operation in the UK is the fact that one cannot choose private health care alone in preference to NHS.

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