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Visa renewal fees leave migrants struggling in cost-of-living crisis

More than half of UK immigrants on the ten-year route to settlement are finding it hard to afford heating and food.

By Katharine Swindells

A new survey of migrants on the ten-year route to settlement in the UK has found that almost two-thirds are struggling to pay their utility bills, as they grapple with employment issues, lack of access to benefits and high visa renewal fees.

The ten-year route requires migrants to accrue a decade of continuous lawful residence before they can apply for indefinite leave to remain. Roughly 170,000 people are estimated to have permission to remain in the UK under this system.

Waiting times at the Home Office are severe, and migrants’ rights organisations argue that reducing the frequency with which migrants have to renew their leave to remain would greatly cut down the backlog, while also improving living conditions for thousands of people.

A new report by the migrants’ rights charities Praxis and Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, in collaboration with the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), surveyed migrants on the ten-year route to settlement about how the cost-of-living crisis was impacting them. The full figures of the survey, shared with Spotlight, reveal that 62 per cent of respondents said they were struggling to afford their utility bills, and 57 per cent were struggling to afford food.

[See also: This immigration bill isn’t just illegal – it’s dangerous]

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These migrants are affected by the same price rises as the rest of the country, but many are not eligible for benefits, and they also face potentially crippling visa costs. Leave to remain has to be renewed every two-and-a-half years for a decade, at a cost of over £1,000 per person each time.

Of the migrants surveyed, 41 per cent said they had borrowed money from friends and family to pay for their visa application or renewal. Of those who had problems with their renewal or missed the deadline, 37 per cent said it was because they could not afford the fees.

Efe, a mother of six from Nigeria who was interviewed for the report, became undocumented in 2019 due to being unable to afford the fees. Her application for a fee waiver was rejected by the Home Office. After getting help from an immigration charity, her and her family now have leave to remain again, but Efe had to start the process from the beginning, meaning that although she has lived in the UK for 13 years, she won’t be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain for another decade. “It just felt like all the efforts I’ve been making from day one to settle in the UK have been dashed,” Efe said.

It’s a vicious cycle. Leave to remain has to be renewed every 30 months, and the current waiting time for processing is ten months. An investigation last year found that as many as 63,000 legal migrants every year were wrongfully losing jobs or being denied employment due to delays in their paperwork being processed at the Home Office.

Indeed, 30 per cent of respondents to the latest Praxis survey said they couldn’t find a job while waiting on their visa renewal, and 15 per cent said they had to leave their job. Perhaps even more concerningly, 7 per cent reported that they had been forced into work they didn’t want to do, and 6 per cent said they’d worked in dangerous conditions, as a result of the instability of frequent visa renewals and long waiting times.

Nura, a Saudi Arabian NHS worker interviewed for the report, was £30 short on her renewal fee, but submitted it anyway hoping the Home Office would forgive the difference. While she was waiting for her application to be processed, her employer terminated her contract due to lack of paperwork, even though she had the legal right to work. She became homeless, and then her application was rejected by the Home Office due to the missing £30. As she tries to regain her visa status, she is unable to work.

“I’ve always worked, I’ve always paid tax,” Nura said. “Now I’m just sitting idle. I do a bit of volunteering, but I’m not earning money… It’s inhumane, it’s unfair.”

[See also: What does a good, 21st-century immigration policy look like?]

Migrants' living conditions do not match public opinion. Polling conducted by YouGov for Praxis and the IPPR found that almost half of Brits thought migrants on the ten-year route should have access to benefits and that the cost of the application and renewal should be means-tested; 45 per cent said the cost of renewal was too expensive, and only 12 per cent said it should cost more. When it came to waiting times, 70 per cent of the public said migrants should reasonably expect their visa renewals to be processed within a month. Only 3 per cent said migrants should expect it to take longer than six months.

Migrants' rights groups say that, by shortening the ten-year route to five years, or by requiring renewal every five instead of two-and-a-half years, the government could vastly improve the economic and social integration, and the overall wellbeing, of tens of thousands of migrants, as well as drastically reduce the Home Office's workload and resulting waiting times.

[See also: The UK is less racist than the left - and the right - think]

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