Come in, but cough up

Observations on visa charges

The Home Office has admitted that the new charges are far above the cost involved and has also revealed that the profits will be used for "ferreting out illegal workers", "building new detention centres" and "increasing the rate and number of illegal immigrants sent back to their home countries". The higher prices therefore force legal migrants to pay for illegal entrants. Unfair? Of course. But it's canny politics, penalising those who can't vote to the benefit of those who can.

The visa price-hikes have provoked outrage abroad but remain completely ignored by the UK public and media. The Australian media has speculated that the move is payback for the Ashes defeat, while in South Africa, from where thousands of young people come to the UK on Commonwealth two-year working visas, it's predicted poorer youngsters will stop coming.

Immigration minister Liam Byrne claims the increases were set after extensive consultation, which found that the "price elasticity" for a working permit was around £200. Therefore, he argues, the price hike from £85 to £190 will not cause a "calamitous decline" in applications. But whose "stretchiness" did he measure? An average Australian household (whose weekly disposable income is around £300) can be slightly more elastic than an average Indian household (whose weekly disposable income is around £35).

Inevitably, then, the new visa costs will skew the system in favour of migrants from developed countries, along with the rich few from poor countries.

Migrants already in the country face the highest rises. Applying for indefinite leave to remain now costs £750, up from £335, and naturalisation fees are £575, £375 more than last month.

Byrne argues that immigrants "make significant economic gains from living and working in the UK" and shouldn't find these costs prohibitive. He cites the example of a highly skilled migrant earning £40,000 a year. But less than a fifth of immigrants are highly skilled and fewer earn that sort of money. The director of Croydon's BME (Black Minority Ethnic) Forum, Nero Ughwujabo, says immigrants are among the poorest in society. He calls the charges a "collective punishment", pointing out that working immigrants pay taxes like everyone else. This, then, is an extra one levied on them alone.

But Labour was smart to raise money this way. The newspapers don't care, the public hasn't noticed, the victims can't vote.