In a continuation of substantial UK immigration reforms, Home Secretary Priti Patel is considering scrapping visa concessions for citizens of 26 European countries.
As it stands, citizens from countries signed up to the European Social Charter are eligible for an automatic £55 reduction on UK work visa fees.
The plan to remove the concession would affect citizens of 22 of the 27 EU member states, as well as citizens of Iceland, North Macedonia, Norway and Turkey. The Home Secretary is considering removing the UK from the element of the European Social Charter that involves offering ‘cheaper visa fees’, according to a report in The Times.
As stated in Article 18 of the charter, signatories must ‘simplify existing formalities and to reduce or abolish chancery dues and other charges payable by foreign workers or their employers’.
Concession under review
Speaking to Sky News, a Whitehall source has reportedly described the concession as ‘under review’ as part of an attempt to make the UK immigration system ‘as fair as possible for everyone’ and to ‘level the playing field’ for applicants from around the world.
The short-term UK visas currently eligible for the £55 discount are as follows:
- Skilled Worker Visas
- Health and Care Worker Visas
- Charity Worker Visas
- Creative and Sporting Visas
- Religious Worker Visas
- Seasonal Worker Visas
The concession means that a Seasonal Worker Visa applicant from one of the 26 countries would see their visa application fee reduced from £244 to £189.
The Health and Care Visa was introduced by the government in August 2020 amid widespread appreciation for health and care workers’ contributions on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. It offers a cheaper, faster route into the country for certain medical professionals, with the visa costing somewhere between £232 and £464 without the discount.
According to the Home Office, the visa means that health and care professionals pay up to 50 percent less than Skilled Worker Visa applicants. Over the course of the pandemic to date, the government has extended around 20,000 Health and Care Visas free of charge.
Immigration Health Surcharge
Additionally, NHS workers have been exempted from the controversial Immigration Health Surcharge following much consternation regarding their initial inclusion. The surcharge can total £624 per year and applies to the vast majority of UK visa applications.
But Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has described the proposed scrapping of the visa concession as a ‘stealth tax’ that penalises foreign health and care workers.
“What does the Home Secretary have against NHS and care workers? Conservative plans to slap a stealth tax on frontline heroes, who have risked their own health to keep us safe through this pandemic, is shameful. The Prime Minister made a personal promise to remove the Immigration Health Surcharge for overseas workers.
Now, what he gave with one hand, he seeks to take away with the other.”
European Social Charter
The UK is a signatory of the European Social Charter through its membership of the Council of Europe, the existence of which predates the European Union.
A Home Office spokesperson said:
“All visa fees are kept under review. Now free movement has ended our ambition is to ensure consistency and fairness across the immigration system, including across EU Member States.
Health and care workers are offered significantly lower fees under the new health and care visa.”
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