On 13 July 2023, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced significant increases to UK visa application fees. The Government has not yet confirmed when these changes will come into effect, but we expect the changes set out below to be introduced at short notice:
- The Immigration Health Surcharge, which is a fee that must be paid by certain visa applicants, and which enables them to access the NHS, will increase to £1,035 per year of leave granted (from £624 per year of leave granted). The surcharge is currently payable by those applying for visas with a duration of over six months who wish to come to the UK to work, study or join family, or who are applying to extend their visa while in the UK. The discounted rate for Students, applicants under 18-years old, and individuals applying under the Youth Mobility Scheme will also increase to £776 per year of leave granted (from £470 per year of leave granted).
- Work and Visit visa application fees will increase by 15%.
- The fees to assign Certificates of Sponsorship to sponsored migrants will increase by 20%.
- The fees for Student visas, Settlement, Citizenship, Permission to Enter and Stay applications will also increase by at least 20%.
- Priority service fees, an add-on fee which can be paid by certain visa applicants to fast-track the processing of an application, will be equalised for applications submitted outside the UK and inside the UK. This will result in a net increase in the priority fee for in-country applications.
Next steps for employers
As an employer, the increase to immigration visa fees may have a significant impact on talent and recruitment budgets. We therefore recommend reviewing your current immigration strategy and evaluating any non-UK recruitment in this context.
1. Review any pending and forthcoming visa applications
As a starting point, it is important to ensure that any pending visa applications are submitted without delay. Employers should also consider any forthcoming non-UK recruitment in the next six months and assess whether these can be submitted earlier.
These could be applications for individuals who are:
- outside the UK and applying for entry clearance; or
- in the UK under a different immigration category and applying to switch to another immigration category; or
- in the UK and are applying to extend their current permission to stay.
While there is no scheduled date for the implementation of the updated visa fees, we expect this to be at a short notice, and the impact to employers will be significant.
2. Immigration policy review
Employers should also review their immigration policy to assess to what extent the fee increases align with their talent strategy.
The fees associated with sponsorship include:
- Sponsorship fees: These include Certificate of Sponsorship ("CoS") fees and the Immigration Skills Charge, which are paid by the employer.
- Visa fees: These include any costs associated with the submission of the visa application. These normally include the visa application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge ("IHS") which are payable at the time of submission of the visa application. The visa application fee and IHS may be paid by the employer or the sponsored worker.
- Incidental costs: These can include costs which may be incurred to ensure a successful visa application. These can include English language testing fees, visa centre fees, priority service costs, Tuberculosis testing and legal fees.
Employers could consider including a clawback clause in their employment contracts to cover the repayment of visa fees and incidental costs, should an employee leave the company at an earlier date. Note that the Immigration Skills Charge fee can never be recovered from the sponsored employee.
Employers may also want to consider whether they wish to support the visa application fees associated with their sponsored workers' families. Dependant visa fees can significantly add to the overall budget if these are to be included in the overall support to the worker.
3. Consider the total cost of sponsorship
Due to the increase in immigration visa fees, employers may wish to consider whether it is more financially viable to sponsor workers for a longer period from the outset. This is because a longer visa may protect the employer from incurring further visa fees associated with extension applications and therefore may reduce overall costs.
This involves a comprehensive assessment of the visa fees to be paid now, in comparison to the total fees to be paid during the course of sponsorship. For example, the Home Office fees for a 2-year Skilled Worker application (not including sponsorship and priority fees) made from within the UK are £1,967. Once the fee increases are implemented, this would increase to £2,896.85. In comparison, a longer duration, 3-year Skilled Worker visa on today's fees would cost less than this amount at £2,591.
As such, longer duration visas could protect employers in the short-term.