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Speaking for Ourselves

Editorial: 'Troubling' - visa fees during Covid-19

Editorial: 'Troubling' - visa fees during Covid-19

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 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Editorial: 'Troubling' - visa fees during Covid-19

Shantel works in a care home in Birmingham. On top of the unimaginable stress of the last few weeks, she has had to apply to renew her visa, which, at the time of writing, expires in two days. She can’t afford the extortionate fee, so she applied for a fee waiver more than a month ago, but she’s still waiting to hear if that’s been granted. If it’s rejected, she will have to find around £2,100 in the next 48 hours. 

This pandemic has undoubtedly left many people feeling vulnerable and insecure. But for some people like Shantel, the UK’s discriminatory visa system means that fear of the virus has only been half of the story - complicated renewal processes and extortionate fees have been another dark cloud on the horizon. 

We welcome the automatic one-year visa extension that the Home Office has granted to some healthcare workers - but it’s not enough.

At a recent meeting with around 40 of our West Midlands members, we heard many stories of people still suffering, people who aren’t eligible for this extension, but should be. Since this lockdown started, we have been urging the Government to automatically extend all visas due to expire before October 2020 - and we are repeating that call now. 

The kind of fee Shantel is facing is by no means unique to her situation. If you’re married to a British person and want to live in the UK, you have to pay a staggering £3,250 for a visa that lasts less than three years. Renewing it costs the same again. After that you can apply for indefinite leave to remain (£2,389), then later naturalisation (£1,330). Then there’s the annual NHS surcharge (set to rise to £624 per year in October) and various obligatory admin fees. 

Given that these figures are significantly higher than the published administration costs (usually around £200-300), these fees are unfair at the best of times. At a time when many people have lost their jobs or are on reduced income, they are surely indefensible. 

The recent suggestion from a Home Office minister that migrants should be able to rely on investments and savings to pay these fees is therefore deeply disappointing. Whilst it has not been unusual for this government to prioritise migrants with wealth, it is surprising to see a continuation of this attitude during a pandemic. If anything has been underlined by this country’s new-found appreciation of frontline workers, it is the flaws of valuing people according to their salary.

And it’s not just the costs that are a problem right now. Accessing reliable legal advice (necessary for most visa applications) is even harder than normal; gathering the required reams of bank statements and other physical evidence is almost impossible; and those who usually rely on library computers to prepare their applications are totally stuck.

The recent expansion of the one-year visa extensions to a wider range of healthcare workers is welcome - but we believe that no one should be facing the extortionate cost and extreme stress of applying for visas during this pandemic. Rather than constantly shifting goalposts, we call on the government to recognise everyone’s need for security at this time. Not only would this end discrimination, it would bring clarity and simplicity to what has often been a confusing message. 

In the long term, we want to see fees reduced to the cost of processing them and for children’s fees to be abolished. This would bring us in line with other European countries such as France and Germany. Indeed, if fees in this country were at these fairer levels currently, there would not be such an urgent need for the Government to grant automatic extensions during Covid-19. After all, there’s a world of difference between losing your job and needing to find £200 to renew your visa, and losing your job and needing to find £2000. 

We know from recent Select Committee hearings that politicians have been rightly shocked by revelations on this subject. The discovery that there are people on the ‘frontline’ who are facing legal uncertainty and unaffordable fees was described by the Home Affairs Committee chair, Yvette Cooper MP, as ‘very troubling’, and she has since urged the Home Secretary to look at expanding the scheme further.

We urge the Home Secretary to listen to Yvette Cooper MP and to people like Shantel. The Home Office must take immediate steps to ensure no one has to face the costs and stress of renewing their visa at this unprecedented time - and commit to significantly reducing the discriminatory fees in the long term. For Shantel and countless others like her, the clock is ticking.



TOP IMAGE: Piggy Bank, Pictures of Money, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)