The Scandal of UK Visa Fees

It is a fact that the United Kingdom has some of the highest visa fees in the world. The fee for an application for indefinite leave to remain now costs £2,389 per person. That amounts to more than £10,000 for a family of four.

In 2011, the then immigration minister, Damian Green, announced that the Home Office would start charging fees significantly above the cost of administration in order to offset cuts to the funding of the immigration system.

For example, the current fee for naturalising as a British citizen is £1,330. The cost to the Home Office of processing a naturalisation application is £372.

Many applicants face serious financial hardship when paying these expensive visa fees. It should also be pointed out that, should an applicant make a mistake in their application resulting in a refusal, the visa fee is not refunded. They then face the prospect of having to find the funds to pay for their application for a second time or, worse, face the prospect of finding themselves without legal status in the United Kingdom. As the Immigration Rules are recognised as being very complicated and confusing, it is not surprising that people making their own applications without professional advice can make a mistake that ends up costing them dearly.

Because of the high cost of visa fees, (and the Immigration Health Surcharge where applicable), many applicants cannot afford to pay additional fees for the professional advice that would ensure such mistakes were avoided.

The Home Office has said that charging fees above cost is necessary to reduce the burden on taxpayers from the parts of the border, immigration and citizenship system not funded by charges. They also state that there are exceptions to application fees to protect the most vulnerable, (such as children in care), and that application fees are also waived where evidence provided shows that a person may be destitute, or where there are exceptional financial circumstances, and requiring a payment would result in a breach of rights under the European convention on human rights.

However, following a freedom of information request by the Guardian newspaper, figures published by the Home Office show the department rejected 72% of applicants seeking a fee waiver for their cases in 2018. The rate of rejections has ranged between 72% to 90% over the last five years.

The number of rejections among child applicants was also high. In 2018, 69% of fee waiver applications for someone aged 18 or younger were turned down.

The Home Office has stated that when setting fees, they also take into account the wider costs involved in running our border, immigration and citizenship system, so that those who directly benefit from it contribute to its funding.

This is disingenuous to say the least because those needing to renew or extend their visas have no choice if they wish to remain legally in the country. For example, individuals on the 10 year route have to renew their visas every 30 months over that period and face paying £2,033 every 30 months, (£1,033 visa fee plus £1,000 IHS), to remain lawfully in the country.

It should also be pointed out that many migrants working in the United Kingdom will have paid taxes for many years, whilst at the same time, they have been barred from having access to public funds to which they have been contributing through the payment of their taxes.

In his statement to parliament on 3rd April announcing the Windrush compensation scheme, the Home Secretary stated, “The United Kingdom has a proud history of welcoming arrivals from around the world. We have long held open the door to those who want to come and help build a better country…… and we have all benefited as a result, with the UK emerging as a stronger, broader, more vibrant and successful nation”.

The United Kingdom may have had “a proud history of welcoming arrivals from around the world” in the past. One could be forgiven for questioning whether that is still the case given the current level of visa fees.

The Home Secretary went on to state, “We would not be the country that we are today without the men and the women who crossed oceans to come here legally, to make their homes, to work hard, to pay taxes, to raise their families”.

So why should those who “work hard” and “pay taxes” be forced to pay exorbitant fees that many of them can’t afford having already paid their taxes like any other citizen and run the risk of jeopardising their immigration status if they are unable to meet these costs?

The cost of applying for or renewing a visa should be based on the cost of administration and should not be a profit centre for the Home Office.

Nelam Trewin, April 2019