I’m a British citizen – but hostile environment NHS charges could leave me broke

Battling the Home Office already cost us thousands. Now we have to pull another £500 out of thin air.

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When I first heard the news that the immigration healthcare surcharge would be doubling, the panic set in. Just a few weeks before this, my fiancé Tom had finally returned to the UK after a yearlong battle with the Home Office. We had only just come to terms with the fact we would have to scrimp on our upcoming wedding, because we also needed to save up £2,000 for his next application to remain in the UK with me. The surcharge for non-EU citizens is currently £200 a year, which over the 2.5 year length of a spousal visa comes to £500. Doubled, it will cost us £1,000. In short, we will have to pull another £500 out of thin air.

I’ve known hard times. I’ve lived alone since I was 16, working in low-paid jobs, often having to weigh up whether to top up the electricity so I can wash my clothes for work, or top up my travel card so I could get there. I’ve struggled immensely over the years, but I’ve always managed to cope somehow.

I thought my battles had finally come to an end when I met Tom in 2016. But it was not to be. You see, Tom is from the “wrong” side of an arbitrary border. Being from Albania, which is outside the EU, meant he had to jump through hoops to get here – and meant that I became another of the working-class British citizens to suffer because of our government’s hostile policies on immigration.

Under the current rules, British citizens who earn below £18,600 a year don’t have the right to marry a partner from outside the EU. My job at a local charity in Tottenham puts me over this threshold by £2,400 – but Tom’s visa was still refused, unlawfully as it finally transpires, over a single missing payslip. Fighting the decision, fighting to be together, ate into our savings, and even ended up costing me a job

All in all, we have spent roughly £10,000, more than half of which went on legal fees. The rest went on flights to visit my fiancé in Albania, which were essential for my sanity, anti-depressant prescriptions, counselling – and the list goes on. All these costs would have never arisen had the visa not been unlawfully refused.

Tom is finally here with me, where he belongs, on a six-month fiancé visa for now. This visa doesn’t give him the right to work, so we’re both supported by my salary. While this is enough to keep us, it doesn’t leave us much left over to carry on forking out for hikes in visa fees to bureaucrats who seem to see bad decision-making as a way to meet their targets on immigration. And we have to pay the surcharge every time the visa is renewed. 

That being said, I have never begrudged paying any money towards the NHS – the staff deserve our utmost respect for all the hard work they do, especially since they work for a service that is so under-resourced and underfunded. But people like my soon-to-be husband are essentially being taxed twice. Once Tom has a job, which is ready and waiting for him as soon as he has permission to work, he will be paying tax and national insurance like everyone else. Paying hundreds of pounds a year for healthcare means that he is essentially contributing two times over. I just don’t feel this fee increase is fair on working-class families like mine. All we are doing is trying to get by.

To some it may sound like just an extra £500, but for us it’s a kick in the teeth, especially after spending the best part of 2018, and every spare penny we had, trying to put the visa refusal right. We are now considering taking out a loan to cover the cost, risking pushing us further into debt. It really doesn’t promote family values, just as we start our life together – for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.

Once upon a time, I might have been surprised by these punitive rules – but by now, I know well the price we pay for falling in love beyond the bounds of what our government has deemed acceptable.