Size of margins raises concerns department has incentive to reject applicants on technicalities, forcing them to reapply
The Home Office is making profits of up to 800% on immigration applications from families, many of whom are eligible to live in the UK but are turned down on technicalities and forced to reapply – and pay again.
Guardian analysis of Home Office figures on the fees for applications shows a vast discrepancy between how much it costs the government to process each immigration application and the fee it charges applicants.
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For example, since April the fee to apply for indefinite leave to enter for a vulnerable adult dependent relative has been set at £3,250. Its costs the Home Office £423 to process the application.
The immigration minister Damian Green announced in 2011 that the government would charge fees significantly above cost as part of a deliberate attempt to subsidise cuts to the funding of the immigration system. The Home Office claims the approach is “only right” and says that charging fees above costs is a necessary step to reduce the burden on the taxpayer from the border, immigration and citizenship system from areas not funded by fees.
But as the atmosphere over immigration has soured, the size of the margins has raised concerns that the department, which has suffered 24.9% cuts to its £10.6bn annual budget and has been asked to outline potential additional spending cuts of 6%, has substantial incentives to turn down applicants over minor details, forcing them to pay a second time when reapplying.
Some fees have risen by as much as 23% since last year. The Home Office said the fees to rise were those with the “most significant benefits and entitlements for successful applicants” and strongly denies that financial incentives influence its immigration decisions.
The department charges £2,297 for an application for indefinite leave to enter or remain (per person for the main applicant and every dependant), a rise of 22.5% on 2016-17. It costs £252 to process each application.
Andrew Henderson and his wife, Hsin-Ni Chen, a Taiwanese national, have had to make two UK family visa applications costing about £1,464 each after their first application was refused on a technicality. The cost to the government to process this visa was £423.
In July, Henderson, a 43-year-old technical sales manager for the Cambridge-based Eurotech Limited, married Chen, a 39-year-old translator and interpreter who worked for General Electric in Taiwan. “After the wedding, we completed the application form for a spousal visa online, telling them that my wife was currently in the country on a tourist’s visa. We then applied for an appointment at a premium service centre to submit our application at a cost of £1,583,” he said.
At the appointment they were told that Chen’s application had been rejected. The sole reason was that it was impossible to switch from a visitor visa to a family visa. Instead, applicants must leave and apply from overseas.
“While I don’t agree with that rule, I can accept that it exists,” said Henderson. “What I cannot accept is the fact that we were not told in advance that our application had no chance of succeeding because of this rule.
“While I have now found a note on another page of the visa information pages that does state this rule, the rule was not mentioned on the page that lists the requirements for eligibility for this application. That page is the correct place for that information, and it is not there.
“Additionally, we provided the details of my wife’s current immigration status while we were electronically completing the application form on the visa and immigration website. The website should have immediately instructed us that we were attempting to follow a prohibited path when we entered her immigration status.
“Finally, when we applied for the premium appointment there was a list of people who could not apply via this route, and people on visitors visas are not mentioned in the list,” he added.
Chen has now returned to Taiwan to make her application from there. As well as the cost of flights and what Henderson said was the “considerable injury” of a 12-week enforced separation for the couple, they have had to pay an additional £1,510.46 for her new overseas application.
“A key angle of our story is that the Home Office are charging excessive sums for applications that greatly exceed the cost of processing the applications,” said Henderson. “They are profiting from every application and profiting even more so when they reject applications.
“Most people will have no choice but to submit further applications at additional expense, and the Home Office profit. They are exploiting vulnerable people and are incentivised to do so.”
Jan Doerfel, an immigration lawyer, said some of the applications that had the least chance of success and had been interpreted extremely restrictively – such as for the visa for adult dependent relatives – were the most expensive, costing as much as £3,250.
“There is the continuous peddling of the myth that migrants don’t pay commensurately for their applications – when they do and have done so for a long time,” he said.
Profits made by the Home Office increased in April when settlement and indefinite leave to remain application fees increased by 22.5%. At the same time, all premium services increased by 23%.
The Home Office has already been criticised over a new charge of £5.48 for anyone contacting UK Visas and Immigration from overseas by email. The fee was introduced after the Home Office contracted out its customer enquiries service for visa applications to a private outsourcing firm, Sitel UK, a subsidiary of the French-owned Acticall Sitel Group. Sitel reduced the number of languages in which services are available from 20 to eight, including English.
Doerfel said: “In the light of the immense existing visa costs, the introduction of email fees is adding insult to injury and constitutes a dangerous precedent for charging for customer services more broadly.”
A Home Office spokesperson said its approach was only right and ensured that “those who benefit directly from it contribute appropriately”. The spokesperson said fee levels aimed to “strike a balance between generating income and maintaining global competitiveness”.
• This article was amended on 1 September 2017 to correct an error in the percentage profit accrued by the Home Office on some visa applications.
Source : theguardian
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