Employers to collect migrants' visa fees
Responsibility to switch from workers to sponsors
Fees may rise to reflect benefits of coming to UK
Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Monday October 30, 2006
Companies and universities are to be asked to take responsibility for collecting the visa fees of their migrant staff and overseas students in an overhaul of immigration and nationality charges to be unveiled by Home Office ministers today.
A Home Office consultation paper to be published today also raises the idea of linking immigration charges to the likely economic benefits that new migrants will gain by coming to Britain.
The immigration minister, Liam Byrne, confirmed the wide-ranging review: “We are looking at the whole charging process to see how it can more fairly reflect costs of across-the-board immigration services. This is an important part of our review of the immigration service.”
The fresh review of charges for work permits, student visas and nationality applications is likely to cause an outcry as it will lead to a new round of fee increases being imposed next year after they were doubled to between 153 and 500 for each applicant only last year.
Last year's increase was designed to raise 170m a year to make Britain's migration programme self-financing by 2008, but ministers are now considering whether to levy a further “surcharge” on migrants based on economic benefits gained by coming to work in Britain.
Home Office civil servants have argued in the past that such a surcharge is justified because migrants will enjoy a “windfall gain through being granted access to the UK labour market”. The figure of 500 was mentioned when the idea was first floated – and rejected – in 2003.
The consultation paper to be published today is not expected to contain any specific figures either for future levels of charges or for such a new surcharge. But it will include options for recouping more of the costs of the immigration and nationality programme.
Until now “full-cost” fees have covered only the expense of processing applications, but it is believed that officials would also like to cover the costs of enforcement – including immigration raids and deportations – by raising charges to new migrants. The immigration enforcement budget is currently being doubled to 100m a year and the Treasury is keen to find new ways of financing it.
In future all but the most highly skilled migrants to Britain will require a sponsor when applying for a work permit or student visa. The Home Office is now keen to see these sponsors, rather than the applicants themselves, take responsibility for collecting the new charges and fees.
A spokesman for Universities UK said they were in favour of creating a “one-stop shop” as far as international students and visas were concerned, but wanted to see the detail of the consultation paper before commenting further.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the last round of fee increases had not been matched by a corresponding rise in the standard of service to migrants provided by the Home Office.
Rhian Beynon of the JCWI said that asking sponsors to collect immigration fees was putting a “quasi-immigration responsibility” on their shoulders, which raised questions about whether they were being given too much power.
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