On 13 July 2023, the government announced that it is going to introduce a massive increase to the cost of immigration applications and the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). The government stated, and the Home Secretary confirmed, that the reason for these increases is to cover pay-rises for certain public sector workers. It is not clear what the connection is between visa application fees and public sector pay, nor whether it is even lawful to increase fees on this basis.
We still do not know when these increases will be introduced, although we expect it to be at some point in the autumn. The exact figures have not been announced, but we know that the cost of work and visit visas will increase by 15%, while the fees will increase by 20% for most other visas. The IHS will be increasing from £624 per year to £1,035 per year.
This is a staggering hike in the cost of applying for visas and leave to remain. The cost of the IHS, in particular, has increased exponentially. As recently as the start of January 2019, the IHS cost £200 per year, meaning that in less than five years the cost will have increased more than fivefold.
These increases place migrants already in the United Kingdom in a very difficult position. An applicant who applied in-country for a partner visa on March 2017 would have paid a total of £1,311: £811 for the application fee and £500 for the IHS. Assuming this person is applying to extend on the 10-year route to settlement, their next application looks set to cost them more than £3,845. The overall cost to families with more than one applicant, especially on visas such as the Skilled Worker or Global Talent routes where they may apply for five years at a time, will be eye-watering.
Who needs to act now?
Migrants who already have leave to remain will, for the most part, need to wait until near to where their leave is expiring before applying for further leave. Whether they will have to pay these higher fees will simply be a matter of when they are able to make that next application.
However, there will be people who can take action now to apply under the current fees. Overstayers looking to regularise their status, or applicants with valid leave looking to switch into a different visa category, would be well advised to apply as soon as possible. Those looking to apply on routes which require a prior endorsement, such as Global Talent and Innovator Founder, should take steps as soon as possible to apply for that endorsement. On the Global Talent route, it is possible to apply for the endorsement and leave to remain simultaneously, which may be worth the gamble to avoid paying higher fees.
What if you cannot afford the fees?
Migrants looking to apply for leave based on their human rights (in particular, those applying as a partner or a parent) may be eligible for a fee waiver. To be eligible for a fee waiver, an applicant simply needs to show that they cannot afford the application fees, or that if they did pay for the fees then they would not be able to afford their essential livings costs and/or doing so would harm their child’s wellbeing.
A likely side-effect to these increased fees will be that a large group of applicants will become eligible for a fee waiver on the basis that they cannot afford the new fees (but may have been able to save up to afford the current fees).
If you would like assistance applying for leave before the fees increase, or need advice on your eligibility for a fee waiver, feel free to make an enquiry.