No fees for applications under appendix EU to the Immigration Rules

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 3:30 pm, 5th March 2019

The new clauses highlight in different ways the concern over significant increases in costs relating to the use of the migration system. Scrapping the settled status application fee was very welcome. New clause 32 would simply enshrine that in law and ensure that any replacement scheme did not attract a fee. That territory has largely been covered by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central earlier, and I will not repeat what he said.

Will the Minister confirm that there will be no fee for seeking an administrative review of any refusal of settled status? What assessments have been made of the costs of future centres that people are required to attend if they need help to scan documents, for example?

New clause 39 allows for a debate on the skills charge of £1,000 for an employee for 12 months and £500 for every subsequent six months. This is a significant tax on employing a worker from overseas. It is not a subtle tax and seems to be based on the false premise that firms that recruit from overseas are the ones that fail to invest in training at home. That is not the case. Comparatively few businesses recruit from outside the EEA currently. Are we really going to impose a significant levy on many thousands of additional businesses, simply because it is proving impossible for them to recruit locally?

Finally, new clause 45 concerns an issue that I have raised with the Minister on a number of occasions and that I feel strongly about: the system of charging people who are entitled to British citizenship by registration, but who are struggling to meet the exorbitant fees, which have escalated to over £1,000. If they are entitled to register as British, that would give many EEA nationals a more secure status than settled status. It is important to emphasise that when Parliament changed the rules on nationality so that birth in the UK was no longer enough to secure British citizenship, it was careful to seek to protect those who would not qualify automatically, but for whom the UK was genuinely home. The debates from the British Nationality Act 1981 show that Parliament envisaged a straightforward automatic grant if certain criteria were met. The fee at that time was just £35. We are not asking for a return to that level, but simply for a level that reflects the financial cost to the Home Office, which is in the region of £300,000, although I do not have the exact figure to hand.

An early-day motion on this topic achieved extensive cross-party support, as did a Backbench Business debate, which I believe happened last year. Again, I ask the Minister to simply listen to colleagues from both sides of the House. We are talking about people who are entitled in law to British citizenship, and they should not be prevented from obtaining that citizenship merely by an exorbitant fee. The Home Secretary himself recognised that it was a heck of a lot of money to be charging children, so I hope the Home Office will stop charging that sort of sum.