Speaking for Ourselves

Planned actions against visa fee increases

Planned actions against visa fee increases


 Migrant Voice - Planned actions against visa fee increases

The government’s proposed punishing increases, to what are already extortionate visa and settlement charges, was the driving force behind our national online meeting on 8 August, 2023.

We came together to hear from experts and activists, and discuss what actions we can take to stop this injustice.

Starting out with a combination of solidarity, anger and determination to do something, we left with a range of ideas and actions which we can take forward, including a new national day of action, more information about which can be found at the end of this update.

Migrant Voice Director Nazek Ramadan introduced the meeting, explaining that Migrant Voice has been campaigning for a couple of years for a reduction in the cost of the extortionate fees, which migrants are already forced to pay. We now face, however,  a potential enormous unjust increase - in the middle of a cost of living crisis. Speaking out about this, Nazek said that migrants who are already paying huge amounts in fees as well as taxes are being penalised and #PayingForInequality, instead of our contributions being recognised. The government is pitting people against each other in claiming that this is how it will pay for public sector pay rises.

Nazek said that we can’t just sit back and do nothing. “This is why we are here today to…speak about the impact of this on us and the implications… and most importantly, what can we do to challenge it to resist it. We must do something together. “

Anne Stoltenberg, Head of Development at Migrant Voice, then explained how the organisation,  and our members affected by visa costs, have been speaking out about the impact of these extortionate fees and the long routes to settlement. She explained that the fees already meant that an individual has been paying £5,216 on the five-year route and £10,432 on the 10-year route before being able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain. The cost affects every aspect of people’s lives: health, work, debt, relationships, poverty, life chances, being in limbo between applications. Our campaign has been raising the issue with hundreds of MPs, and in the public.

Visas are already charged at 7-10 times the cost of processing. Now these fees are set to increase at least 15-20% with the NHS surcharge on its own going up 66%.

Our first guest speaker Mauricio Cruz, Programme Manager at IRMO - Indoamerican Refugee and Migrant Organisation shared the impact he has seen in the community of the significant increase in the fees over the years, and how much of a struggle it can be, particularly for those on the 10 year routes, who have family in the UK. Mauricio mentioned the additional cost of fees for legal representation and the lack of legal aid. He highlighted that this ”contributes to an immigration advice sector where people can't afford advice.”

He also shared an example of a woman who had been living 24 years in the UK but could not afford to apply for the fees and for the immigration lawyers. She will have been in the UK for decades before she has her status. Increasing the fees will only make this worse.

Our next speaker, Luisa Pineda, Welfare Support and Advocacy Officer Southeast and East Asian Centre CIC (SEEAC) was not surprised about the fee increase in the larger context of the UK hostile environment.

She highlighted the impact of the visa costs and restrictions on exacerbating power issues in situations of domestic violence and abuse.

Luise also raised the point that many migrants work in a lot of essential and shortage occupations, and that many already pay extortionate fees to agencies in order to come to the UK to work while also having no recourse to public funds. She highlighted the division sown in the labour market by this policy. “We believe our public sector workers deserve that pay rise. They deserve fair wages for their work, but not at the expense of migrants who are already struggling. This [policy] will just add to the existing burden of many migrants trying to live these dignified lives amidst the cost of living crisis, fighting for their rights to work and live here. “

Alexandra Bulat, shared her experience both as Co-Director of the Migrant Democracy Project, and as a Councillor in Cambridgeshire. In the latter role, the number one issue of concern she meets on the doorstep is the cost-of-living crisis. Alexandra feels it is forgotten that debate that migrants are also here “working, studying, raising families and we're affecting the same way about the cost of living crisis like everyone else living in the UK.” But “migrants have those additional challenges now to have even higher fees.”

She said that a solution has to be democratic reform. She sees that “a lot of the politicians fail to recognize the needs of migrant communities because they're either assumed not to count electorally or because they actually don't have the right to vote.”

In her role at the Migrant Democracy Project she has been campaigning for the right to vote to be extended to all residents regardless of citizenship like it is already the case in Scotland and Wales. She explained that the increases in fees will affect citizenship and fewer people of a migrant background will have the right to vote. “And because those things are related, unless migrants are involved in democratic process, and as we demand for our rights to vote to be equal, then it is very difficult to make the case for immigration system reform.”

Barbra Tanyanyiwa, acting Co-Chairperson from Pan African Workers Union explained how the newly formed union was formed as a result of the problems encountered by care workers coming to the UK on work visas. Barbra addressed the government's claim that the visa fees increase will pay for public sector workers by pointing out that as many migrants are also public sector workers, including care workers, so we are essentially being asked to finance our own pay increase, which is absurd. “We see this proposal is discriminatory. They want to divide us as workers. They want us to hate other workers to say they are going to get paid because of the migrant workers that are going to finance their salary bill.

Barbra also highlighted the problems faced by many care workers who are charged high fees by agencies - as much as £5000 to get their visa to the UK, which leaves them saddled with huge debts, or charged £2000 by unscrupulous employers to renew their visas. So whilst they are already fighting these issues, they are now facing these additional visa increases. "As migrant care workers, we wonder how we are going to support ourselves?"

Barbra emphasised that PAWA is happy to be part of joint actions to raise this issue and to share the petition created by Juliana Lobo, who was our next speaker.

Juliana Lobo, is a Brazilian national living in the UK who has launched a petition which has gained more than 15,000 signatures calling for a halt to plans to increase visa fees.

Juliana shared how she had to act when she had first seen the news of the proposed visa fees increases. She said she felt violated and felt strongly that we should do something to stop what the government wants to do in terms of increasing the visa fees.

She said that as migrants we are all here giving our very best to the country and we need to be treated with respect. So that's why the petition was created.

The petition has now had 15,000 signatures within three weeks and she believes it can get to 100,000 so parliament will discuss the matter. She emphasised her gratitude to the many people who had worked with her. The petition has had “support from so many people, communities, people who are really coming up together to try to get as many signatures as possible. So I really hope we can keep fighting together. We need to do what is in our power to try to change this situation.” She asked for help to share the petition with as many people as possible.

Our final speaker was Zoe Bantleman, Legal Director; ILPA (Immigration Law Practitioners Association)

Zoe emphasised that while the proposed fees increase will have a devastating impact, she wanted to focus on what we can still do to stop this proposal in its tracks. She mentioned that parliament is likely to have to debate the matter when parliament returns. She explained that the government intends to lay the relevant regulations to change the fees and that means that we can still think about “how to influence and create debate within parliament to try to stop those regulations from passing into law.”.

Zoe suggested that we could write to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which considers secondary legislation and make key points about the impact that have been raised in the meeting. She also suggested that we raise awareness,and work, with businesses and industry who can influence the government. We know that a lot of the visa fees, especially for work visas and other routes are actually borne by employers. And so business and industry can put some pressure on the government, or the opposition. She suggested that the opposition should be asked to ensure that should they come into power, this wouldn't be a policy that they pursue and they should lay their own regulations to then bring the fees back down to an appropriate level.

Zoe emphasised that we can begin to think about the parliamentary process and how to use it.

Daniel Sohege, Advocacy and Communications Manager from Migrant Voice, shared some of the planned actions we want to take in our campaign against extortionate visa costs. These include: engaging more with unions and with businesses, more media stories, community events, more public awareness-raising through direct action and creative tools, Supporter resource pack/toolkit, and continuing parliamentary influencing, working with other policy makers, collaboration with others, and most importantly continue to work with migrants affected.

The floor was opened to contributions and discussion, particularly around what actions to take to combat these new proposals, both as part of Migrant Voice’s campaign and beyond.

Participants made many contributions, sharing the impact of the existing fees and visa routes on their lives and the devastating impact these increases would have.

There were also many calls to action including suggestions for:

  • Engagement with unions
  • Letter writing and engagement with MPs
  • Raising the issue through Home Office oral questions in Parliament
  • Local groups to raise the issue to get support in, and beyond, communities and from local authorities
  • Contacting international organisations, such as the International Labour Organisation to generate international pressure
  • Flagging the discriminatory and racist elements of the proposal to raise awareness.
  • Write to, and engage with, secondary legislation committee about impact of fees
  • National Day of Action
  • In messaging to the treasury, we could be highlighting the value migrants bring to the UK, which would be lost as many won’t want to come to the UK, as well as the the increased issues caused by  more people in the UK being pushed into destitution as a result of the increases.

We were delighted with overwhelming support for the proposed Migrant Voice National Day of Action, to be planned for October. This will bring together organisations and individuals across the country to organise activities locally under one combined banner, to raise awareness of the issue.

Migrant Voice is compiling a list of those participants who are interested, and resources for the day. We will be arranging planning and training meetings ahead of the action day, with dates and further information to be confirmed shortly.

You can follow all the updates through our mailing list, or email [email protected] to register your interest in taking part.

Get in touch

Migrant Voice
VAI, 200a Pentonville Road,
N1 9JP

Phone: +44 (0) 207 832 5824
Email: [email protected]

Registered Charity
Number: 1142963 (England and Wales); SC050970 (Scotland)

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