Home Office freezes immigration and nationality fees

In a major win for campaigning organisations, the Home Office will not be raising most immigration and nationality fees for the 2019/20 financial year.

The Home Office may have declined to raise fees in line with its usual practice because of the impending publication of a review of Home Office fees, due in March 2019. CCLC submitted joint evidence with young campaigners Let Us Learn in July 2018, in tandem with Let Us Learn’s ‘Freeze our Fees’ campaign. The fee tables for 2019 are available here.

What do they cost?

Although we welcome the fact that fees will not be rising this year, they are already extremely high: a one off application for limited leave to remain (not for study or work) is £1,033 and will normally result in 2 ½ years’ leave. On top of this, there is a health surcharge of £400 per year. This means that 30 months of leave to remain costs £2,033 up-front. An application for settlement – indefinite leave to remain – is even more expensive. It costs £2,389 to become settled in the UK. Many young people will need to have had ten years limited leave before they can apply for settlement, so the total cost over the ten years would be £10,521 at today’s rates.

These fees are largely profit to the Home Office. The Home Office publishes estimates of the unit costs of processing fees here. Some profits are particularly shocking; an application for indefinite leave to remain (ILR, £2,389) costs £243 to process – so is 90% profit.

Though Home Office fees are not rising, the Immigration Health Surcharge – paid at the point of application – doubled in January 2019. This adds £500 to the cost of every limited leave application.

These costs are a huge part of the hostile environment, and are a concrete and often insurmountable barrier to young people with a human rights claim to live in the UK regularising their stay. The full extent of this barrier was laid out in CCLC’s 2018 briefing The fee barrier: can you afford a place to call home?

This fee freeze is a welcome first step, but action must now be taken to ensure that fees are not an impediment to long-resident young people living lawfully in UK, and do not keep migrants in a cycle of forced destitution. CCLC looks forward to the publication of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) review into Home Office fees in March 2019, and will continue to campaign for wide-ranging changes to the current fee regime.

We will keep fighting for the Home Office to do the following:

  • Remove profit making on children’s applications. The need for a child to have immigration status and certainty should not be jeopardised by the Home Office profit-making. It cannot be in the child’s best interest to pay more than their application costs to process, and profit-making should be removed on these applications.
  • Amend and extend the fee waiver system so that ability to pay is assessed on means rather than the extremely high destitution threshold. Fee waivers should be means tested on a sliding scale, similar to legal aid. This would ensure those reapplying who are receiving benefits or in low-paid employment are able to renew their leave. Pushing low-paid individuals and families out of lawful status is in no one’s interest.
  • Make fee waivers available for citizenship and indefinite leave to remain applications. Leaving someone who cannot afford the high fees to continually apply for limited leave past the ten year period serves no purpose in terms of immigration control. It punishes those who are too poor to buy their way to stability and prevents young people from making decisions about their future.
  • Introduce certainty around fee increases: increases, if justifiable, should match inflation and other government increases. This provides certainty in terms of how far increases will rise year on year, and allows individuals the opportunity to save for the next increase. The current system to increase fees is arbitrary, and fees are set at a level too high for most people to afford. Fees should not go up every year without a business case for doing so.
  • Automatically exempt families in receipt of local authority support from paying fees where they provide a copy of the support given to them, or where it can be easily ascertained by the Home Office. This minimises the work required by preventing the duplication of assessments.
  • Introduce an exemption to citizenship fees for looked after children. In some cases, looked after children will qualify for citizenship but not ILR. High fees can deter applications, and represent a cost shift onto local government as local authorities will have to pay for them.

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