How can the UK immigration system be improved?

In this column I refer to an interesting article written by lawyer Colin Yeo in his blog Free Movement.

The article is titled “A modest proposal for reforming the immigration system: shorten key immigration routes”. The author makes a simple proposal to improve the UK immigration system to some extent: shorten the time needed to obtain indefinite leave to remain.

Colin points out that every point of contact that a person has with the Home Office when making a visa application is both costly and stressful. He cites as an example the British Spouse Visa. Under this route, a person must reside in the United Kingdom for five years in order to qualify for indefinite leave to remain.

Those that apply for this visa must pay:

£ 1,538            Initial application fee

£ 1,048            Fee for application for visa extension

£3,120             Health surcharge fee

£2,404             Settlement request

£8,110             Total

This cost only increases if we add the costs of a lawyer, document translations, biometric appointment fees, etc. and significantly increases for each dependent (son or daughter of the applicant) that is added to the application.

This gets even worse for families who find themselves on the ten-year route to acquiring permanent residence. As Colin Yeo rightly puts it, “the minimum cost is more like £13,326 before lawyers and other additional costs. In total, that could look more like £25,000 over ten years.” It is important to say that that amount (£25,000) is per applicant, so you can imagine the extortionate cost when several members of a family have to apply for visa extensions.

Apart from the economic cost of requiring people to make so many visa applications, there are other costs, too. Making a visa application is extremely stressful and can be anxiety inducing. Applications can take months to resolve and sometimes applicants lose their jobs or the ability to change jobs because they can’t show their employer that they have a valid visa. Likewise, young people who are in university are threatened with not being able to continue their studies or accessing bursaries or loans. The money people spend doing visa extensions is often less money than a family would have for 5-10 years and could be used to improve their living conditions instead.

As Colin mentions in his article, there can only be two reasons why the government imposes such a long period to acquire indefinite leave to remain. The first reason is because it is believed that the longer the road to acquiring indefinite leave to remain, the fewer the people that will get acquire settlement or come to the UK to reside, and the second possible justification is the Home Office’s intention to make money at the expense of migrants. Regarding the first reason, there is no evidence that extending the time to acquire indefinite leave to remain means that fewer people wanted to come to reside in the United Kingdom or indeed manage to obtain settlement. With regards to the second reason, I share the author’s disagreement on “forcing multiple applications simply as a revenue-raising measure, particularly when it inflicts pain on so many families.”

Finally, it is not just migrants that feel the effects of so many visa extensions. The Home Office also loses. Numerous visa extensions create even more work for public officials in a government unit in crisis that faces problems as serious as the delay in resolving asylum applications, the crossing of migrants through the English Channel, or the refugee crisis from the war in Ukraine. Civil servants in the Home Office could devote their time to more important tasks than visa extension applications.

Manuel Padilla Behar is a solicitor specialised in immigration law and is the owner of MPB Solicitors. You can contact him here.


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