Massive increases to immigration fees announced

The government has announced massive increases in immigration fees and the immigration health surcharge. Abolition of some fees has also been announced.

The normal rate for the immigration health surcharge will increase from £624 to £1,035 per year. This will be paid by workers entering for a period of six months or more and the family members of migrants and British citizens alike. The discounted rate for students, children and youth mobility visa holders will be increased from £470 to £776 per year. The minister announcing the measure explicitly stated that this increase “would fund the pay rise for doctors” that was announced earlier.

Immigration and nationality fees will be increased as well. Work and visit visas will rise by 15%. Student visas, certificates of sponsorship, settlement, citizenship, entry clearance and leave to remain applications by “at least 20%”.

To give you an idea of what we are talking about, the cost of a settlement application will therefore rise to at least £2,885 per person. For a family of four, that will be over £11,500 in total. That family will also have paid something like £15,000 in immigration health surcharge costs, and that assumes no further price rises in the next five years. And their visa fees will typically have amounted to around £6,200, which again assumes no further increases in the meantime. They will have needed to pay for additional services from the Home Office and there’s the cost of a lawyer as well.

The cost is at least £33,000 before paying for your lawyer. That’s a lot of money to be forking out compared to your co-workers and fellow residents.

Or, imagine you are a foreign partner of a British citizen. You are on the ten year route to settlement and approaching the halfway point. You would have needed to find £7,620 in immigration fees to get to the point of settlement. You’ve budgeted for that and it’s tight but you think you can manage it. Now, you’ll need to find £10,575.

Separately, the immigration minister has also announced a number of simplifications. The fee of £19.20 for biometric enrolment will be abolished, as will the £161 charge for transfer of conditions. Fees will no longer be charged for amending details on physical documents such as name, sex marker, nationality and photograph. Fees will also be abolished for like-for-like replacement of a biometric residence permit where the document has expired. This will primarily benefit those with indefinite leave to remain, whose cards have a maximum 10-year validity, with most due to expire in 2024.

The cost of student and priority service applications outside and inside the UK will be equalised. It is currently cheaper to apply from within the UK for several visa types. This was justified as “covering more of the cost of the migration and borders system, allowing the Home Secretary to divert more funding to police forces to fund the pay rise for the police.”

You can see the current level of fees here. No announcement was made on timing of the increases. If you can make an immigration application sooner rather than later then you should do so. We have a guide to making fee waiver applications for those who cannot afford the cost here.

It is not clear that it is legal to increase immigration fees for the purpose of funding pay rises for public sector workers. The power to set immigration and nationality fees is conferred on the Home Secretary by the Immigration Act 2014. Section 68 sets out an exhaustive list of considerations to which the Home Secretary may have regard:

In setting the amount of any fee, or rate or other factor, in fees regulations, the Secretary of State may have regard only to—
(a) the costs of exercising the function;
(b) benefits that the Secretary of State thinks are likely to accrue to any person in connection with the exercise of the function;
(c) the costs of exercising any other function in connection with immigration or nationality;
(d) the promotion of economic growth;
(e) fees charged by or on behalf of governments of other countries in respect of comparable functions;
(f) any international agreement.

The government will no doubt say that reshuffling resources within the Home Office so that fees contribute more to the cost of the other immigration and nationality functions is permissible.

There is no real equivalent to this limitation for the immigration health surcharge. The power to levy this charge is conferred by section 38 of the Immigration Act 2014 and there is no exhaustive list there. Subsection (4) merely says

In specifying the amount of a charge under subsection (3)(b) the Secretary of State must (among other matters) have regard to the range of health services that are likely to be available free of charge to persons who have been given immigration permission.

It goes without saying that employers, universities, migrants already here, future migrants and the British and settled family members of migrants will be very, very unhappy about these increases.

Employers are already using ‘claw back‘ clauses for migrant workers: the employer offers to pay the visa and health surcharge costs but insists on repayment if the employee leaves. One can see why an employer would do this, given how much the fees amount to. But it leaves the employee trapped and unable to leave the country or move to another job in the UK. The employee is more vulnerable to poor treatment and exploitation. At least some public sector employers are also paying the fees; the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The fees charged in the United Kingdom are already far, far higher than comparable European countries and the United States. The immigration health surcharge is essentially mandatory state health insurance, which is imposed because of the United Kingdom’s unique free-at-the-point-of-delivery system. A charge of £1,035 seems like a lot to me but I don’t know how it compares to private health insurance for other countries. Under the UK system, the same charge is levied on all migrants, irrespective of their age or health, whereas private health providers probably charge less to the young and healthy.

Personally, I do not think family members should be charged a lot to enter the country. It is an unfair tax on falling in love with a foreigner and any children will feel the effects as much or more than the adults. I have no particular objection to students and workers being charged, though. They can make an informed choice about whether the charge is worthwhile and they can vote with their feet and not come. There is an international market for these migrants and if the UK chooses to price itself out of that market then so be it.

I really, really object to very high fees being charged once migrants have already entered the country, though. Affording these fees, particularly for families, can be financially and emotionally punishing and it seriously disadvantages those families compared to others. It actually holds them back from integrating, which is the opposite of good social policy.

And I really, really, really object to increasing the fees after the migrant has arrived. These sorts of unpredictable increases make it impossible for a migrant family to budget for the future. It is unlikely to force many to leave the country but it will without doubt make their lives much harder and it may force some into illegality. Imagine you cannot afford a settlement visa after five years of residence because the fee has increased beyond your means. You now have two children as well as a partner. You aren’t going to leave or uproot the whole family; you’ll just stay and hope for the best.

These fee increases are cheap for the government, both financially and politically. Migrants and their families will find it very expensive indeed.

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