Sajid Javid's department is charging an effective tax rate of nearly 400% on families' right to live together.
For many, the process of bringing over a spouse from abroad to live together here in the UK is complicated, arduous and costly. For the British government, however, immigration bureaucracy has become quite the money spinner.
As things stand today, the Home Office charges a ‘surplus’ for each immigration application i.e. an additional fee on top of the actual processing cost. This surplus fee isn’t based on anything – it’s just however much cash the Home Office fancies squeezing out of taxpayers aspiring to live in the same country as their loved ones.
Recently this surplus charge was foisted upon a constituent of mine sponsoring their non-EEA spouse’s UK settlement application. Rather than simply charge up front the £388 administration cost, the Home Office opted to slap on an additional, arbitrary fee of £1,135. An effective tax rate of nearly 400% on my constituent’s luxury purchase – their partner’s right to stay with them in the place they call home.
Such a policy fits hand-in-glove with the British government’s distasteful post-Brexit £30k minimum income threshold for those wishing to live here – thrust on us by an executive who know the price of everything but the value of nothing. A British government which has reduced everything – even marriage – to the financial sum of its parts.
For the British government to charge spousal immigration applicants for administration costs is, at best, an inconvenience – but to profit from their precarity is unconscionable. The Home Office is pricing out couples who cannot afford an inflated charge of £1,523 while extorting those who can.
Charging a surplus is all very well and good if you happen to be a shoe manufacturer or a burger chain but not if you are the face of the state – the ultimate monopoly. Spouses seeking settled status have nowhere else to turn.
Worse still, funds recouped through these surplus charges are then used to subsidise short stay visitor visas – falsely deflating tourism visa costs for international visitors.
Whilst the underlying principle of making the UK as accessible as possible to tourists is not misplaced, compelling non-EEA spouses and other migrants to shoulder the financial burden is. Particularly so when the fee forced upon them quadruples the original £388 administration cost.
Likewise, inward international tourism is central to the Welsh economy, but it is not even the case that these unjustly-obtained moneys stay in their nation or region of origin. Year in, year out, London is the most popular destination for overseas visitors to the UK. Half of all visits by overseas residents to the UK in 2017 included London.
Over the same period, there were four times as many visits to London than to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined. By design – intentionally or otherwise – this Home Office policy of subsiding tourist visas via absurd immigration application charges disproportionately benefits the black hole economies of London and the south-east of England.
On in Parliament I made the case for Home Office reform of these immigration application charges.
The principle of a self-funding immigration system is not inherently undesirable, but the redistribution of cash from working people to tourists must cease. Overhaul and comprehensive review is needed to avoid the continuation of gross over-charging – particularly in light of the upcoming 2019 Comprehensive Spending Review.
The British government is treating immigration as another profit-making enterprise, separating deserving and undeserving couples based on the figures printed upon their payslips. What we need is an immigration system which abolishes these arbitrary charges and thresholds, treating people instead with the dignity they deserve.
Hywel Williams is Plaid Cymru Member of Parliament for Arfon.
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