Visa fees, the budget, and UKBA “products”

Once a “welfare state” – after long years of Thatcherism and New Labour, and a few months of the “coalition government” elected on 6 May 2010 – the UK is a very confused place about whose welfare the state is meant to protect. Traditionally welfare states functioned to champion the needs and rights of the people at the bottom of society. In the UK, oddly however, it seems that the state is now reading its own financial welfare in interpreting the phrase “welfare state” rather than the welfare of its citizens, residents, or those persons within or outside its borders who should be afforded some form of protection under international humanitarian concordats.

It appears that the UK’s ailing economy is now beginning to rely on revenue generated by the fees which the UKBA charges in relation to immigration applications. However, it remains to be seen how a ‘fees for revenue’ policy can alleviate the UK’s declining economic fortunes when the express objective of immigration policy is reduced to re-establishing the ‘tens of thousands level’ experienced in the early 1990s. In fact higher fees paid by allowing increases in immigration would make the UK richer. But maybe the higher fees are designed to offset the losses which might be made were the fees not increased to facilitate the new ‘tens of thousands policy’. Perhaps the view taken by the government in having less applications with higher fees might maintain the current financial status quo in relation to fees. What must not be confused is the UKBA’s tendency to not understand the decision making which it is confronted with in dealing with its casework. And confirming just this the courts have voiced their displeasure repeatedly at the UKBA’s inability to deal with its duties (see for example ZN (Afghanistan) v ECO (Karachi) UKSC 21).

Chancellor Osborne’s budget plans have removed any misconceptions which the electorate had about the state using its economically coercive powers to revive the economy. Accordingly, the massive cuts in public spending which Mr Osborne has announced recently testify to the narrowness of the government’s economic approach which will not only create yet more unemployment, but additionally the folly of a “fortress Britain” immigration policy will chase international business away from the shores of this country depriving an already cash starved economy of badly needed overseas capital. It is reported that the cuts of £4 billion on welfare spending will hit the poor ten times harder than the rich. Yet, from the poor person’s point of view, the reduction in welfare spending is not surprising because plutocracy has been the longstanding vice of the Tories.

Therefore, Mr Osbourne, and indeed his colleague the Secretary of State for the Home Department, remain wedded to opportunism when they claim that there are increasing “efficiency” and the increased fees regime is a logical extension of better performance. This argument might be digestible if the UKBA could convince a majority of people who have every had any dealings with them that the agency knows what it is up to. But since the UKBA and its predecessors the BIA and the IND are indeed unable to make bold claims about its “customer services” most people who have ever had dealings with them will describe them as inefficient.

The Immigration Minister Mr Damian Green has issued his “Ministerial Statement” in relation to the proposed amendments in the fee structure used by the UKBA in processing applications.

It is Mr Green’s case that from 1 October 2010 and November 2010 overseas and in-country applications of every type should be profit driven. Consequently, the services which the UKBA provides are now called “products”. Are we to understand that the UKBA is now a business or other financial interest? Has this country gone down the Third Way so far that its state machinery is motivated solely by profit? In any event if the UKBA’s shares were traded on the stock exchange they would not be amenable to increasing in value because of the colossal bureaucratic problems which the UKBA suffers from. To fix such mammoth problems the Home Secretary, at the very least, needs a divine light to guide her.

Just to make the point factually – in relation to the claim that the IKBA is “inefficient” or “negligent” it is not currently possible to make an application as a dependant relative personally in the Public Enquiry Office (PEO) at all as the service, or “product” should I say, is suspended.

However, Mr Green’s statement discloses the UKBA’s plans to increase the price of their “product” from the presently published rate of £1930 to £2050. The postal application under the dependant applicant route will not be varied and remain £1680. What is scandalous beyond all conception is that the cost of processing these applications is £341 (postal) and £256 (PEO premium when available) respectively and, therefore, on the currently unavailable PEO dependant relative application the UKBA is making some 800% profit. A modern day East India Company in the making will the UKBA have to punish its officials as Parliament did the East India Company’s by impeaching Governor-General Warren Hastings in 1787?

From Mr Green’s statement the following fee variations are observable in the UKBA’s future plans:

  • Short term visit visas up £2 from £68 to £70
  • Settlement visas up £106 from £644 to £750
  • 2, 5 and 10 year visitor visa fees will be set at £245, £450 and £650 a piece respectively
  • Dependents’ application fees seem to be set to increase by 20-30% of principal applicants’ fees
  • Tier 1 visas up £60 from £690 to 750
  • Tier 1 in-country visas up £10 from £840 to £850
  • Tier 2 visas up £80 from £270 to £350
  • Tier 2 in-country visas up £25 from £475 to £500
  • Tier 4 visas up £21 from £199 to £220
  • Tier 4 in-country visa fee without variation held at £357
  • Tier 5 visas up £2 from £128 to £130

But in fairness to the Home Secretary, the Immigration Minister, and the UKBA some sponsorship “products” which they sell are processed at a much higher cost in comparison to the fee charged. These, such as the Tier 2 sponsorship licence registration, which are in the £300 to £400 range, will not be varied by the UKBA.  Given the ‘tens of thousands policy’ it will be hard for local businesses to privately invest in industries which tend to suffer from local labour shortages.

New policies such as automatically awarding sponsors zero certificates of sponsorship on registration are already causing massive economic disruption in the UK’s substantial restaurant and food industry where skilled chefs and butchers are in very short supply.

The fees policy for products is a recent introduction into the economics of the immigration scene in the UK. A decade ago there were no fees for visas at all. Now that services are being sold as products and immigration control is being tightened in order to live up to the new maxim of “patrolling our borders” it is very likely that the behaviour and inexperience of the present Tory lead government will lead to very serious economic damage for the UK because immigrants have long been an asset not only to the diversity of the UK’s society but also because of their contribution to the tax purse of the UK economy.

About Asad Ali Khan, BA, MSc, MA, LL.B (Hons), LL.M

Senior Partner, Khan & Co, Barristers-at-Law
This entry was posted in Business, Citizenship and Nationality, East India Company, Economy, Fees, Immigration Law, Immigration Rules, PBS, Post Study Work, Tier 1, Tier 2 and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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