Immigration Applications: Fee Structure

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Brexit), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Trade) 11:00 am, 14th May 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the fee structure for immigration applications.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. Rather than sitting in front of you as Chair, this time I am standing before you. I was first alerted to the subject of this debate after a constituent wrote to me about how a surplus charge was foisted on her when sponsoring her non-European economic area spouse’s application for settlement. Rather than simply charging an up-front fee of £388—that is the actual administration cost—the Home Office opted to slap on an additional arbitrary fee of £1,135. Effectively, the Government are making a 300% profit on my constituents’ “luxury” purchase of their right to live together in the place they call home.

I am grateful to my constituents for drawing the matter to my attention. Public politics is dominated by the superficial and bogus appeal of “Here today, gone tomorrow” braggarts, shysters and snake oil salesmen, but that is just part of what democracy is about. It is also about concerned and determined citizens taking an active interest in the workings of Government, taking their responsibilities seriously, working with their elected representatives and, when the Government are in their opinion wanting, holding them to account.

Significantly, a report by David Bolt, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, attractively entitled, “An inspection of the policies and practices of the Home Office’s Borders, Immigration and Citizenship Systems relating to charging and fees June 2018-January 2019”, published on 4 April this year, outlined the costs of different immigration applications, including short-stay visit visas and settlement schemes, which is the matter I am concerned with today. The report calculates the surplus for each application type. The surplus is the difference between the 2018-19 fee and the actual estimated processing costs. When applying from outside the country for settlement through the family route, the surplus stands at £1,135, as my constituent noted. That is the surplus, but the actual cost is higher. Anybody would understandably be angry to discover that they were being effectively subjected to arbitrary and to my mind unjustified taxation. They are paying an excessive fee that is very much over the odds for something that should be their right.

The report by the chief inspector also directly addresses the point that short-stay visitor visas are being subsidised by other immigration applications. Despite being higher in price than originally planned—the Home Office had initially intended a 2% increase in 2018—the fee for a tourist visa was £37 below the unit cost. My constituent was paying three times more than the unit cost. My constituent was even angrier about having to pay a spouse settlement fee of £1,523 on discovering that the unit cost was £388. That was apparently in order to subsidise the tourist visa system.