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British visa fees to go up again

Reports suggest that the additional fee could be set at 10 per cent of the cost of a visa, reports Vijay Dutt.
By Vijay Dutt | Hindustan Times, London
UPDATED ON FEB 20, 2008 11:27 PM IST

The impression that the British government thinks immigrants from non-EU countries like India to be cash cows has been strengthened by new home office plans to make immigrants pay higher visa charges to help “fund public services”.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday confirmed that visa fees would be raised for a special transitional impact fund to cover the extra burden on public services. New tests would be devised for acquiring a British passport.

The levy, likely to raise an extra £15m, is being dubbed a trust fund. “Money for the British Trust Fund will be raised through increases to certain fees for immigration applications, with migrants who tend to consume more in public services — such as children and elderly relatives — paying more than others,” a government document stated.

Keith Best, chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, and Raj Balu, an immigration consultant, criticised the proposals as an unfair tax on migrants, many of whom, were young men who did not use schools and hospitals. “Unfortunately, migrants are being made the ‘milch cow’ to make up the shortfall in government finances,” Best told the BBC.

Last year, the UK Visas Agency raised £190m from 2.7 million applicants.

Reports suggest that the additional fee could be set at 10 per cent of the cost of a visa, which would be an extra £20 on top of the typical £200 charge for those wishing to stay in the UK beyond six months.

Under the earlier proposal, to be made effective from April 1, the fee for Highly Skilled Migrant T1 (General) Programme, which is popular among Indians, was to go up steeply from £400 to £600. The fee for a work permit and visitor visa (long-term) was to be increased from £200 to £205, while the settlement visa was to go up from £500 to £515.

The Visitor visa was to be set at £65. (British High Commission in India set an exchange rate of Rs. 80 for a pound in February). Now, if the present plan is implemented all these visas will cost 20 per cent extra.

A Home Office green paper proposing a new “pathway to citizenship” -- designed to enhance the integration of individual migrants into British society -- will also be published. The scheme is thought to include proposals to make more rigorous the five-year probationary period that most migrants must go through before they can apply for a British passport.

The proposal in fact flows from a speech a year ago, when Prime Minister Gordon Brown was chancellor, in which he said the current English language test, the 24-question exam on life in Britain and the citizenship ceremony did not go far enough to integrate new arrivals. Brown said he thought it was right to ask migrants seeking British citizenship to undertake some community work.

The Home Office did not want to comment on the contents of the green paper, but sources said a system of “earned citizenship” for new migrants to Britain, which may include periods of community and voluntary work, was outlined in the document. The earned citizenship will include a system of rewarding those who integrate quickly through work or voluntary effort and penalise those who commit serious crime during the five-year period.

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