In a significant announcement, the government has revealed a series of substantial modifications to immigration fees and the immigration health surcharge, accompanied by the abolition of specific charges.
One of the critical changes pertains to the immigration health surcharge, which will see a substantial rise from £624 to £1,035 per year for workers entering the country for six months or more, as well as for family members of migrants and British citizens. Moreover, the discounted rate for students, children, and youth mobility visa holders will increase from £470 to £776 per year. The rationale behind this increase was explicitly linked to funding the pay rise for doctors, which had been previously declared.
Additionally, immigration and nationality fees will undergo increases. Work and visit visas will incur a 15% rise, while student visas, certificates of sponsorship, settlement, citizenship, entry clearance, and leave to remain applications will experience a hike of at least 20%.
For illustrative purposes, a settlement application will now cost a minimum of £2,885 per person, and for a family of four, the total expense would exceed £11,500. Adding the immigration health surcharge costs, which could reach approximately £15,000 over five years, and the visa fees of around £6,200, the overall expense for a family would be a substantial £33,000, excluding legal fees. These costs are significantly higher compared to those borne by co-workers and fellow residents.
Consider the scenario of a foreign partner of a British citizen pursuing the ten-year route to settlement. Previously needing to allocate £7,620 for immigration fees to reach the settlement point, they now have to find £10,575.
On a positive note, the immigration minister also announced several simplifications, abolishing the £19.20 fee for biometric enrolment and the £161 charge for transfer of conditions. Furthermore, fees for amending details on physical documents, such as name, sex marker, nationality, and photographs, will no longer be applicable. The removal of fees for like-for-like replacement of a biometric residence permit upon expiry will particularly benefit those with indefinite leave to remain.
However, concerns have arisen about the legality of increasing immigration fees to fund pay rises for public sector workers. The Immigration Act 2014 grants the Home Secretary the power to set immigration and nationality fees, but Section 68 provides an exhaustive list of considerations, and it is unclear if funding pay rises align with these considerations. For the immigration health surcharge, the power to levy the charge is established by section 38 of the Immigration Act 2014, without a similar exhaustive list. This has raised questions about the fairness and implications of the surcharge, especially when compared to other countries' healthcare systems.
Many stakeholders, including employers, universities, migrants, British citizens, and settled family members of migrants, have expressed discontent with the substantial fee increases. Some employers have resorted to "claw back" clauses, obliging migrant workers to repay visa and health surcharge costs if they leave their jobs, thereby trapping employees and leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. Critics argue that the UK's fees are already considerably higher than those in comparable European countries and the United States. Charging family members to enter the country has been seen as an unfair burden, while others believe that students and workers should bear reasonable costs and that the market will respond accordingly.
Especially concerning is the imposition of high fees on migrants after their arrival, making budgeting for the future extraordinarily challenging and hampering integration efforts. The unpredictability of fee increases could push some migrants into financial hardship or even into undocumented status.
In conclusion, the government's decision to implement these fee increases, while potentially beneficial for some sectors, has raised significant concerns among migrants and their families. The financial and emotional burden associated with these changes may have long-lasting consequences, and stakeholders are closely monitoring their implications.