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People who want a visa, permission to stay or citizenship in the UK usually have to pay for it. Fees have risen significantly over the past 20 years: for example, applications to settle in the UK indefinitely used to be free but now cost £2,400. Further significant increases come into force from October 2023, despite complaints from migrants and businesses that fees are already too high. The Government deliberately charges above the cost of processing applications to help fund the wider borders and immigration system.

The application fee and health surcharge often cost thousands of pounds

As well as headline application fees, an immigration health surcharge of £624 per year is levied on visas and extensions. There is also an employer levy of up to £1,000 a year on work permits. All in, a five-year work visa cost around £7,000 at time of writing, and a two-and-a-half-year partner visa £3,400.

There are some exemptions from fees and surcharge for certain groups, in particular applications for asylum or under the EU Settlement Scheme. People who cannot afford to pay for family routes or child citizenship can also apply for a fee waiver.

The Home Office generates a surplus on visa fees to cross-subsidise border security

Successive governments have taken the view that the people who benefit most from the immigration system (migrants themselves) should contribute to its costs. The Home Office wants migration and borders operations to be largely self-funding. Its UK Visas and Immigration arm, which processes applications, aims to recover twice as much in fees as it spends.

But generating income is not the only relevant factor. The Immigration Act 2014 permits the Home Secretary to take account of economic growth in setting fees, along with costs, benefits to migrants and a few other factors. The Government says it tries to strike a balance between economic growth and properly funding the immigration system.

Fees have increased significantly above inflation in recent years

Until 2003, the UK charged nothing at all for visa extensions, work permits and settlement. Fees for initial visas and citizenship were relatively modest. A student visa cost £33.

The Blair Government began charging above the processing cost in order to fund wider immigration activities. Later governments continued that process and added the health surcharge (2015) and an employer levy (2017). Government income from immigration and nationality fees rose from £184 million in 2003 to £2,200 million in 2022, not including another £1,700 million in surcharge and £600 million in employer levies.

Application fees are going up by 15–35% and the health surcharge by 66%

In July 2023, the Government announced an increase in both headline fees and the health surcharge. From 4 October, work and visit visa fees are going up by 15%, family visas, settlement and citizenship by 20%, and student visas by 35%. For example, settlement is increasing from around £2,400 to £2,900.

The health surcharge will rise by 66% to £1,035 a year at a date to be confirmed. The legal process for increasing this takes longer and may not be complete until 2024.

Other developed countries charge less

UK immigration costs are much higher than those in many other countries, including Canada, Germany, France and the USA, according to a 2021 report published by the Royal Society (PDF). This is not a strict like-for-like comparison because of the health surcharge being paid up front, whereas other countries charge ongoing health insurance premiums. But even without the surcharge, UK Skilled Worker visa costs were still considerably higher than the other countries studied.

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