UK visa fees and health surcharge set for ‘significant’ rise
Sunak reiterated that it was “entirely right” to increase these fees, considering that they have not been raised recently
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks at a press conference at 9 Downing Street on July 13, 2023 in London, England. There have been walk-outs across the economy from train drivers to lawyers over the past year as the UK battles a crippling cost-of-living crisis. (Photo by Henry Nicholls – WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The fees and health surcharge paid towards the UK’s state-funded National Health Service (NHS) by visa applicants from around the world, including Indians, are poised to experience a “significant” increase, according to prime minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement on Thursday (13).
The British Indian leader, who faced pressure to implement the recommendations of an independent review concerning pay for teachers, police, junior doctors, and other public sector workers, confirmed a uniform hike ranging between 5 and 7 per cent.
However, Sunak emphasised that the increased costs would not be covered through higher government borrowing, as it could potentially exacerbate high inflation, therefore he expressed the need to find alternative sources for funding.
“If we’re going to prioritise paying public sector workers more, that money has to come from somewhere else because I’m not prepared to put up people’s taxes and I don’t think it would be responsible or right to borrow more because that would just make inflation worse,” Sunak told reporters at a Downing Street press conference.
“So, what we have done are two things to find this money. The first is, we are going to increase the charges that we have for migrants who are coming to this country when they apply for visas and indeed something called the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), which is the levy that they pay to access the NHS,” he said.
“All of those fees are going to go up and that will raise over GBP 1 billion, so across the board visa application fees are going to go up significantly and similarly for the IHS,” he added.
Sunak reiterated that it was “entirely right” to increase these fees, considering that they have not been raised recently and the government believes it is necessary due to the rising costs since the last hike.
As a second measure to address the higher wage bill, government departments will be required to “reprioritise.” He emphasised that this would not entail job cuts or service reductions, but rather a shift in focus towards different priorities.
The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), which applies to long-term migrants to the UK, including a discounted rate for students, currently starts at around GBP 470 per year and increases to several thousand pounds for visa applications spanning multiple years.
The UK Home Office is anticipated to provide comprehensive information in the upcoming months regarding the specific visa categories that will experience fee increases and the effective dates of the new higher rates.
The Conservative Party government, led by Sunak, has faced significant pressure due to disputes over public sector pay, resulting in a series of strikes that have impacted schools and hospitals over the past year.
Notably, junior doctors in England commenced another five-day strike on Thursday after their request for a 35 percent pay raise was rejected. Sunak, in his wage announcement, cautioned that his offer was “final” and further industrial action would not alter the decision.
“There will be no more talks on pay. We will not negotiate again on this year’s settlements and no amount of strikes will change our decision. Instead, the settlement we’ve reached today gives us a fair way to end the strikes. A fair deal for workers and a fair deal for the British taxpayer,” he declared.
He welcomed teachers’ unions expressing their backing, saying the government’s offer will allow teachers and school leaders to call off their strike action and resume normal relations.