The UK is well-known for its sky-high immigration and visa fees. These fees, which have risen steeply up to 20-25% per year since the early 2000s, are big business for the Home Office. In fact, in 2018, the Home Office made over £500m from immigration fees alone. In addition to immigration and visa fees, individuals may be liable for the immigration health surcharge, which is currently priced at £400 per person per year, but set to rise to £624 this fall. On average, an applicant will have to spend over £2,000 to get leave to remain in the UK (rising to £2,500 in a matter of months with the planned surcharge increase), and that is excluding potential legal fees. In short, living in the UK on an immigrant visa is an expensive ordeal.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone who needs a visa can afford these fees. The courts have ruled that for human rights based applications, charging fees which the applicant cannot afford is unlawful. Thus, if you are facing a bill for visa fees that you cannot afford, and are considering borrowing money in order to be able to extend your stay in the UK, it may be worth considering an application for a fee waiver. Here, we go over how to go about it.
Unfortunately, the fee waiver is only available in limit circumstances. The first limitation is that only applicants with a human rights claim are eligible to apply for a fee waiver, and only where their human rights claim constitutes “a substantive basis of their application.” Examples of applications that fall into this category are applications for leave to remain under the five-year parent route, the ten-year partner, parent or private life route where the applicant claims that refusal of that application would breach their rights under Art. 8 of the ECHR, applications based on other ECHR rights, applications from victims of human trafficking or modern slavery, and some applications for leave to remain under the five-year partner route.
Additionally, applications for indefinite leave to remain are never eligible for fee waivers, no matter the basis on which they are being made (human rights or not), limiting the scope of fee waivers further. Applicants are advised to extend their temporary leave to remain until they can afford the indefinite leave to remain fee independently.
Fees waivers do not necessarily cover all fees. It is possible, for example, for an applicant to pay their own fee but apply for a fee waiver for one or more dependant. It is also possible to ask for a waiver of the Immigration Health Surcharge only, and not the main application fee, if the applicant can only afford one of the two.
If the application in question is eligible for a fee waiver, then applicants for fee waivers will have to show that one of the following applies to them:
- They cannot afford the fee
- They are destitute
- They are at risk of imminent destitution
- Their income is not sufficient to meet a child's particular and additional needs
- They are faced with exceptional financial circumstances
Whether you can or cannot afford the fee is a hard thing to prove, and the Home Office tend to only accept fee waivers based on affordability arguments in exceptional circumstances. Generally, officials are instructed to look at applications very restrictively and their point of departure seems to be that an applicant should be able to afford the fee. As such, they will also consider funds from friends and family, or non-liquid funds, when assessing if an applicant can afford the fee.
Applications are made through an online form. After an applicant submits their fee waiver application, the procedure is quite restrictive as well. If waiver is granted, the applicant will be issued with a Unique Reference Number to be used when applying for leave to remain online. The application for leave to remain must be submitted within ten working days of the date of the decision (careful, not the date that the decision is received, but the day it was made). The person must then make an appointment at a Service and Support Centre within 17 working days. If the applicant fails to make the application within these timescales, they may need to make a new fee waiver application. If their leave has expired in the meantime, they may become an overstayer.
If the waiver application is refused, the status of an applicant will depend on whether the applicant had valid leave at the time of the application. The guidance states that there are no service standards in fee waiver applications, meaning they do not provide a standard timeframe in which an application must be decided. However, caseworkers are urged to make reasonable efforts to decide applications requests promptly, especially those involving a child or an applicant who is street homeless, disabled or otherwise in vulnerable circumstances.
Those who have valid leave at the time of application will be told about the refusal and be given ten working days to submit additional evidence to challenge that decision. If the new evidence submitted satisfies the caseworker that they are in fact eligible for the waiver, their application will be accepted, and they will be given another ten working days to submit the application for leave to remain.
If the new evidence does not satisfy the caseworker that they are eligible for a fee waiver, however, their application will be refused, and they will be given ten working days to submit an application for leave to remain and pay the application fee independently. If they do not do so before their leave expires, they will become overstayers.
So, in summary – fee waiver applications are only made online, which poses its own challenges. It is very important that applications for a fee waiver are made before the expiry of leave, to maximise one’s chances. And finally, the requirements are quite restrictive but it is always worth a try. The fact that fee waivers are available is a good development in and of itself.
If you want to know more about how to apply for a fee waiver please do not hesitate to contact us here or send us a question on WhatsApp.
COVID-19 makes it difficult, if not impossible to operate a normal immigration system. Travel restrictions make entering or leaving the UK a complex process, implementing ordinary work or income requirements for visas can undermine public health messages, and to make matters worse, the Home Office itself has been heavily impacted by the government-imposed lockdown, as their staffing levels have suffered and their workload is constantly changing. It is therefore not surprising that numerous changes aimed at ensuring that the UK’s immigration and visa systems continues to function properly have been announced in the past few months. Last week, a cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on the Home Office response to the impact of COVID-19 on the immigration and visa systems.
In the report, the Committee welcomes the government decision to scrap the immigration health surcharge for all NHS and social care workers, calling it “a recognition of the contribution made by the front-line workers fighting COVID-19.” However, it is said not to go far enough. Committee Chair Yvette Cooper MP said: “It is very welcome that the Government has agreed to waive the Immigration Health Surcharge and extend the bereavement scheme for NHS and social care workers. However, most care workers and low-paid NHS support staff are still excluded from receiving the free one-year visa extension granted to clinical staff, and as a result could be facing costs of hundreds or thousands of pounds this summer.
The Committee therefore recommends to open free visa extensions to the same range of employees as they have done for the immigration health surcharge waiver. It also recommends simplifying (and lowering the price tag) of paths to British citizenship and permanent residency to those health and social care workers who risked their lives during the pandemic.
“Excluding the care workers who hold dying residents' hands, the cleaners who scrub the door handles and floors of the COVID-19 wards, or the porters who take patients to intensive care is just wrong. The Government must ensure that all measures of support for NHS and care workers apply to all frontline staff equally, irrespective of grade or job title.”
The Committee also evaluated visa extensions for non-NHS staff. When announcing the Home Office policy change which allowed all visas due to expire before 31 July 2020 to be extended, the Home Secretary said that “nobody will be punished for circumstances outside of their control”. To make good on that promise, the Committee recommends that the Home Office implement automatic, blanket visa extensions instead of making individuals apply for them via email, to ensure that individuals do not overstay their visa unintentionally.
Highlighting a concern which lawyers and immigration experts flagged up immediately after the visa extensions were made public, the report reiterates there is currently no legal basis for any of these extensions. Individuals relying on government policy announcements (which can be changed at any given time and lack legal foundation) need legal reassurance that their extension is lawful and valid and that they can continue to live and work in the UK. The Committee therefore recommends that the Home Office implements a statutory instrument (a form of secondary legislation) to clarify the legal basis of both the extension of leave for all individuals who are unable to leave the country before the expiry of their current visa, and for the automatic extension of leave offered to NHS staff.
Analysing the financial impact of the coronavirus on the visa system as a whole, the report acknowledges the disruption and economic impact of COVID-19, recognising that many individuals have lost their jobs or seen their income significantly reduced through no fault of their own. It is within this context that the Committee recommends adapting visa requirements such as the Minimum Income requirement to take loss of income due to COVID-19 into account when evaluating applications. In order to ensure public health and safety for all, the Government is also urged to lift the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) conditions, which caused turmoil a few weeks ago when it seemed like the PM was not aware of the policy’s existence. The Committee Chair said the government “needs to make sure that these exceptional Covid-19 circumstances aren't pushing families into desperate hardship because of the NRPF rules which prevent them getting the urgent support they need.”
Last but not least, the Home Affairs Committee evaluated the impact of the coronavirus on the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), calling upon the Home Office to step up their efforts to identify vulnerable persons who may not have applied to the EUSS yet.
The report shows that COVID-19 has exacerbated the underlying problems of the EUSS. One of those problems is the lack of information on how the Home Office will approach late applications (applications made after the deadline of 30 June 2021.) The Home Affairs Committee recommendations include a clarification of what support will be provided to assist vulnerable individuals in applying, especially for children in care, given that there is a low application rate for that particular group of people. At the minimum, it is said local authorities should increase their work to identify EU children in care who have not yet applied to the scheme, but ideally, more comprehensive measures should be implemented. The Committee therefore recommends that the Home Office grant automatic Settled Status to all children in care and care leavers, without requiring them to explicitly apply.
The Committee also calls on the Home Office to clarify the legal position of those with pre-settled status. During the pandemic, people with pre-settled status have questioned whether they are able to access all public funds, specifically whether they can get benefits, or whether those rights are reserved for people with indefinite leave to remain only.
To sum up, just like many experts in the area, the Committee is willing to cut the Home Office some slack in these unprecedented times. It is appreciated that going through the normal routes to introduce new policies is made complicated by circumstances outside of the government’s control. However, it is in times like these that guidance needs to be clear, unambiguous, and publicly available so that practitioners know the law, visa holders feel secure, and the Home Office act legally to address the issues we face.
Earlier this month, it was reported that EU citizens face a “teachers tax” of £4,345 over 5 years if they want to come teach in the UK after Brexit. Although not factually incorrect, this statement does not reflect the law – or the reality – of teachers working in the UK.
There is no such thing as a “teachers’ tax.” There is simply an immigration system already in place which in consequence of the Brexit vote will apply to anyone who does not fall under the umbrella of exemptions to that system. In other words, after Brexit, EU citizens will fall under the same immigration regime as third party (non-EU) nationals. Curbing immigration by ending free movement in this way was one of the Leave-campaign’s main selling points, and largely how they won the 2016 referendum.
Effectively, the end of free movement means that everyone, including EU nationals, will need to apply for a visa if they want to enter and live in the UK post-Brexit. The Johnson government has drawn up a plan of what this would look like. Needless to say, under this plan, getting a visa costs money. The Tier 2 visa, which is the working visa for which teachers would have to apply if the rules stay as they are now, costs £1220 if it is a permit for longer than 3 years. In addition to that, the government has stated that any non-British nationals will be liable to pay a yearly NHS immigration surcharge, which all non-EU migrants already pay today. The price of the immigration surcharge is set to go up to £800 a year. If you add up 5 years’ worth of immigration surcharge with the visa fees, it will cost at least £4,345 to live and work in the UK for five years after Brexit, explaining the figure that The Independent alludes to.
Some groups of special workers will have different requirements. The main group of workers with guaranteed special status is NHS workers. The Tory manifesto promises to alleviate the burden of immigration for EU workers with NHS job offers by offering cheaper visa fees and fast-track entry. It is their attempt to ensure that the NHS survives Brexit, labour shortages are filled and employment targets met. It is not unimaginable that if the government recognises a labour shortage and reliance on Europe for the NHS, it may do so for other fields and professions as well.
In short, unless the government implements a special exemption for teachers, which may be a good idea considering the labour shortage in the teaching profession, then yes, they too, like any non-British nationals in the UK, will have to pay for immigration services and the cost of these applications is not to be underestimated. But it is not a tax on teachers, as the Independent article seems to imply. Rather, it is simply the price tag which comes attached to the UK immigration system, which, after Brexit, will apply to EU and non-EU nationals alike.