Immigration and Nationality Application Fees — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:13 pm on 25th March 2021.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 2:13 pm, 25th March 2021

I am glad to be able to raise some of my constituents’ concerns in this debate. The Home Office’s route to citizenship really does treat people as cash cows. It is blatant profiteering off the backs of people who have come to this country to help and to contribute, and it has a negative impact on families’ health and wellbeing, pushing them into debt. The 10-year path to application for ILR, as people have pointed out, means fees every 30 months, the immigration health surcharge, and the ILR application itself after all that. As the House of Commons Library points out, that totals £10,372 in fees and an additional £2,389 for ILR.

Of course, that amount assumes that everything is simple and straightforward, which we know often is not. For example, it does not include lawyers’ fees which, although perhaps necessary, can be absolutely eye-watering for families. I know from people in my constituency that the costs mount up, particularly for families with more than one child. As Meg Hillier rightly pointed out, this means that families prioritise those who are working and leave children to a later stage. Other families who cannot make those choices end up in a huge amount of debt, sometimes even putting these fees on credit cards, leading to significant financial problems for many.

They cannot live the life that the rest of us can enjoy. Many children cannot then participate in school trips, for example, because they do not have the right to travel due to not having citizenship or the relevant passport to do so. They lose out because their families are putting so much into the immigration system that they cannot afford the basics that many other families enjoy. The fee waiver, as others have pointed out and which the Minister may fall back on, is incredibly difficult to get. I have tried to support constituents to get a fee waiver, but it often proves almost impossible unless the family were absolutely destitute. That should not be something that a family has to prove just for the privilege of living in and being a citizen of this country.

As other Members have pointed out, the system itself is incredibly poor. Many cases are lengthy and the processes are inefficient. Many of my constituents have waited years and years to be processed due to issues that the Home Office deems “complex” while often being unwilling or unable to discuss with me as the MP. I could speak at length as well about the visitor visa process, which is absolutely appalling. It just takes money from people, only to refuse their application and then grant it later down the line despite nothing much having changed.

To move to the highly-skilled migrants, I was aghast and shocked to find the Chancellor bigging up the chances of bringing in highly-skilled migrants to this country in his Budget, because I have dealt with many of the highly-skilled migrants affected by the 322(5) case and who found themselves suddenly losing out. Many of them, who were at the end of the 10-year route to ILR and had paid their fees and taxes over the years, lost out because they had made legitimate changes that anyone could make to their tax returns. That meant that their route to citizenship was torn away from them completely unjustifiably by the Home Office, and many people are still in this situation waiting for justice.

Many of these people have been here contributing for a decade or more, but the Home Office then treats them like criminals in the country they have made their home. To use the phrase from 322(5) in the immigration rules, they were deemed

“a threat to national security” and all for making a legitimate change to their tax return. It is absolutely shocking and unacceptable, and before a single further person is given a highly-skilled migrant visa, I ask the Chancellor and the Home Office to sort out this injustice once and for all. It cannot be that those who are already here and have already contributed are treated so abysmally while the Chancellor tries with the other hand to bring people into this country.

I could speak at length about the many cases I have seen over the past six years showing how incompetent, expensive, inefficient and cruel the Home Office is, but I ask the Minister to reflect on these issues that I have raised and make it fairer for families who just want to live their lives, get on with things and have their children grow up in this country. We should owe them a great debt of thanks, not put a great debt on their shoulders.