On the 13th of July, the government proposed a range of hikes to visa fees and surcharges as a way to fund public sector pay rises. While everyone can agree that the public sector needs pay rises, the planned increases to migrant fees are a political choice to pit workers against each other.
The IPPR spelled out several progressive tax options available to the government to fund public sector pay rises without impacting inflation that do not involve robbing one group to pay another. Moreover, many migrants are public sector workers themselves, who should not have to pay higher visa fees to support their own pay increase.
On the 6th of September, SHU UNISON passed a motion ‘Stop Planned Visa Fee Increases’ which called upon Unison Higher Education to urge the government to abandon these plans to raise the fees. However, the situation is changing rapidly.
On the 15th of September, the House of Commons published a research briefing which explains that visas and related fees have risen significantly above inflation and above processing costs. Then, on the 18th of September, the Home Office officially announced 15-35% rises to visa fees, which will take effect on the 4th of October. They also announced a 66% rise to the Immigration Health Surcharge (a fee which migrants pay upfront for each year of their visa to fund the NHS in addition to their taxes), which is meant to take place later this year.
How this will affect students and staff at SHU
Firstly, any migrant staff or students will be directly affected by the cost of their visa renewals. Depending on their visa, this is likely to be an increase between £1,000 and £2,000 depending on the route. For example, a two-year graduate route which costs the Home Office £103 to administer, will go from £1,963 to £2,894; three-year skilled worker visas which cost the Home Office £151 will go from £2,591 to £3,932. These unexpected rises during a cost of living crisis will be felt by migrants and families, and are likely to force those with fast approaching visa renewals to make some hard decisions about their finances.
There are implications for university finances which have potential knock-on effects for all university staff and students, as International Student Fees are projected to make up 25% of HE provider total income. As fees become prohibitive to potential students, university budgets may need to tighten accordingly. Additionally, there has been a 19% increase in the cost to the university to sponsor international students and certificates of sponsorship for skilled workers have gone up by 20%, which will have a direct and immediate impact on university budgets and forecasts.
Even where the university does not pay these costs directly, there are concerns from the research and development sector that the fees will actually level down the UK and have a detrimental effect on the HE sector. Sheffield specifically is one of the cities which benefits the most from international students. According to HEPI, International students have boosted the UK economy by £41.9 billion, and have provided a net figure of £1,930 per resident in Sheffield Central alone in 2021/2022.
So, what can we do about it?
The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) fee increase of 66% which makes up the bulk of a migrant’s visa cost has not yet been agreed by the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Write to your MP and urge them to lobby to have this voted down.
Additionally, the 10-year route to settlement disproportionately affects women and minorities. You can write to your MP to urge them to cap the routes to settlement at 5 years, to stop migrants from having to pay high fees on average every 2.5 years for ten years.
Sign this petition to stop the fee increases, and ask your network to do so as well. If it receives 100,000 signatures Parliament will have to debate it.
Hallam UNISON will be campaigning for this to be taken up by other branches and unions across higher education. If you want to know more or get involved, please get in contact with us.
Kayla Kemhadjian – Hallam UNISON member