UNISON has condemned the government’s plans to hike the fees charged to migrant people for visa applications.
The cost of the Immigration Health Surcharge – a double tax migrant workers have to pay to access healthcare – is set to increase from £624 to £1,035 a year for each person.
This is a 417% increase over the past five years. Work visas are set to increase by 15% and the cost of other visas could rise by 20%.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claims that this will fund public sector pay rises.
UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The government announcement to hugely increase the charges for migrant visas and the immigration health surcharge will push more people into poverty.
“Migrant workers make an immense contribution to public services day in, day out through their hard work and tax contributions, just like other UNISON members.
“They should be made to feel welcome and treated with respect, not punished for the failure of this government to fund public services properly.”
UNISON has long campaigned to reduce visa fees and abolish the Immigration Health Surcharge, which was introduced in 2014 as part of former home secretary Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ for migrants.
Workers who are on the Health and Social Care Visa (skilled worker) will not be affected by the rise in surcharge. The cost of this visa is also set to increase however.
Health and social care workers who are on other visas will have to pay the surcharge up front, but be able to claim a refund on the costs.
Ms McAnea continued: “Migrant workers already experience high levels of costs when renewing visas. UNISON has seen first-hand the impact this has had on members.
“We heard distressing cases of UNISON members working on the pandemic front line going without food so they could feed their children after visa renewals left them with no money. Visa fees don’t just hit bank balances – it leaves families destitute.”
Speaking to the Guardian, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “The UK already effectively taxes migrants twice for healthcare and has some of the most extortionate visa fees in Europe – a migrant family of four often has to pay about £50,000 over 10 years for the right to stay.
“This massive increase is simply unaffordable – it will price workers out of affording a visa and force thousands further into poverty during the cost of living crisis, or out of the country.”
UNISON works with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) to provide immigration advice to members who have come to work in the UK. If you would like to get some advice please call us on 0800 0 857 857 and we’ll arrange an appointment for you.