The changes proposed last year to double the cost of the UK's Immigration Health Surcharge came into force this month. The controversial decision to double the cost (it is now £400) for using the NHS for non-EEA citizens residing in the UK is a politically sensitive one. The current zeitgeist in the UK surrounding immigration means that it is no surprise that the current Conservative government has chosen to add additional cost to those who have come to the UK in order to live and work. The changes are part of a larger overall picture that could threaten the future of immigration in the UK. The government has repeatedly raised the costs for those looking to come to the UK, it has also ensured that eligibility criteria is stiffer than ever for most of the country's visa routes.
Coupled with Brexit, the increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge is yet another blow to inward migration to the UK. Once the UK leaves the EU in March, all migrants from either inside the EEA or outside, will be required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge if, as could happen, the UK leaves the EU without a replacement deal in place. The result is a double edged sword, it could be a huge boost in funds for the NHS, but there is also likely to be a downturn in migration. Changes such as these make it clear that the UK government is keen to follow up on a promise to reduce net migration to the UK, but its means of doing so are somewhat suspect.
In all likelihood, the move to double the cost of the Immigration Health Surcharge is part of the preparations for the changes that Brexit will bring. With no deal becoming a more realistic proposition everyday, the UK will need to ensure that it is prepared for the challenges that are likely to come with it - the Immigration Health Surcharge increase is likely to be a way of offsetting some of these problems. The news is potentially really bad for non-EEA migrants looking to move to the UK who were hoping for improved terms because of Brexit, indeed it appears that it's going to be quite the contrary. It appears that the government is extremely keen to follow through on its promise to significantly reduce net migration to the UK, and this is certainly one way of trying to do so.
There are many in the UK who will cheer the changes. Many argue that so-called “health tourists” (those who use the NHS and are non-EEA citizens) are a blight and cause significant cost to the UK - while nobody knows if there is any truth to this, providing accurate figures for the cost of treatment for non-EEA citizens, especially those who have already paid the Immigration Health Surcharge, is extremely difficult due to a lack of applicable data. Without this data, it is extremely difficult to try and estimate exactly what the cost is for non-EEA citizens currently residing in the UK who are using the National Health Service. Indeed it serves little political capital to find out these figures and this is why these numbers are unlikely to have been collected.
The changes will have surprised many in the immigration industry who would have presumed that, in the face of Brexit, the UK would have done all it could to encourage skilled non-EEA migrants to come to the UK. The UK faces an economic threat due to the shortage of new workers who would have entered the country freely under the freedom of movement rules. It is looking increasingly likely that if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, then freedom of movement will disappear. The UK, like much of the western world, suffers with lowering native birth rates, this causes a long-term problem. As we are living longer than ever before, we need younger migrant workers to come in and fill the jobs that are not going to be filled as the population drops.
Many will argue that the government's approach is completely wrong, the raising of the price of the Immigration Health Surcharge is yet another damaging attack on migration to the UK. Unfortunately Brexit might just be a stiff lesson in why the UK does indeed desperately need migration, and hopefully it won't be too long before politicians from across the Palace of Westminster realise this and introduce a raft of rules that once again stimulate migration.
What is understandable is that certain rules have needed to be changed - especially with regards to so-called “golden visas” like Tier 1 Investor Visas, it is often not these people who will bear the brunt of changes such as the raising of the Immigration Health Surcharge - in many cases, these people have plenty of money and the difference will not affect them. Those on routes such as the Tier 2 General Visa may tell a very different story indeed.
It's the lower tiers such as the Tier 2 General Visa route where these rules really start to make a difference - these visa holders tend to be lower paid workers who cannot afford to pay so much to come to the UK. For those on lower tiers, there is likely to be a tough choice as to whether they do indeed choose to move to the UK, or perhaps select a different destination which is more appreciative of foreign talent.
If you are likely to be affected by the proposed changes to the Immigration Health Surcharge then please get in touch. Our immigration solicitors can help to look at your case and assist you with any immigration query that you might have. So get in touch today and our expert team will be happy to help.
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