Politics

Migrants may be forced into destitution as UK hikes visa renewal fees amid cost of living

The UK government has hiked its visa application fees. The new costs will drive migrants into destitution, campaigners say

Migrant Voice activists rally outside the home office to protest fee increases. Credit: Migrant Voice

Migrants who want to stay in the UK now have to cough up more than £3,000 every 30 months – a fee campaigners have labelled “extortionate” and “devastating.”

The UK government has hiked its visa application fees and international health surcharge. The increases are set “to pay for vital services and allow more funding to be prioritised for public sector pay rises”, the government has claimed.

But the costs will force many migrants into destitution, campaigners have warned – and push them out of legal migration routes.

“Families are left having to make the decision about whether to leave a child undocumented, because they cannot afford the tens of thousands of pounds it costs to apply for visas for everyone,” said Nazek Ramadan, director of Migrant Voice.

Around 82% of those who have fallen out of status – overstayed their visa – arrived in the country through a “legal” route, the charity claims.

How much are visa fees increasing by?

On 4 October the government increased the costs of several visas by between 15 and 35%.

The price of a first spouse or partner visa (for partners coming to the UK for the first time) now costs £1,846, up a fifth from £1,538.

A skilled worker visa will now set you back by £1,420, a 15% increase. Student visas will cost £490, an increase of more than a third on pre-October fees.

With every visa, migrants must also pay the Immigration Health Surcharge. The IHS is due to increase by 66% later this autumn – from £624 to £1,035 per year.

If you want to stay in the UK, these preliminary costs are the tip of the iceberg. Visas to remain in this country must be renewed every two and a half years – a process that costs £1,048.

Together with the HIS, migrants who want to settle in the UK must pay £3,635 for a visa renewal, a rolling cost due every 30 months.

The system treats migrants as the government’s “personal atm”, Ramadan said. “We need a system which is fairer, which works. We need a system which respects migrants and treats them with dignity,” she added.

The UK has some of the highest fees in the world, far exceeding comparable costs in Australia, Canada, France and Germany.

Overall, costs of a limited leave to remain visa (including the health surcharge) have spiked by more than 500% since 2014.

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Many of the migrants hit with these fees are young people who have grown up in the UK and “call this country home”, explained Mariam Bafo, policy and public affairs officer for We Belong.

“These fee increases – imposed in the middle of a cost of living crisis – are placing an impossible financial burden on young people, and stopping them from being able to contribute to their communities and wider society,” she said.

Migrant Voice activists protest in Glasgow on the national day of action. Credit: Migrant Voice

“The new [visa renewal plus immigration health surcharge] fees work out to nearly £130 a month, every month, and money which could go towards young people’s education or securing their futures is instead being siphoned away by the Home Office.”

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Why don’t migrants apply to settle permanently in the UK?

After migrants are in the UK for five or 10 years – depending on their specific visa track ­– they are eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain.

But people who are eligible to apply for permanent settlement remain stuck in an endless loop of repeated limited leave applications due to the exorbitant fees.

The total cost of an Indefinite Leave to Remain (Settlement) application has surged to £2,885 per applicant.

On 31 October, Migrant Voice spearheaded a national day of action to raise awareness of the hefty fees.

At a rally outside the Home Office, migrants and campaigners urged the government to rethink its system.

“Migration is a morally neutral thing: people have migrated for thousands of years and they will keep doing so,” said Bethan Lant, from migrant support organisation Praxis. “What is not morally neutral is its monetisation.”

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