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The negative impact of increased visa fees

21 Jul 2023

Planned increases to visa and immigration fees could undermine the UK’s ambitions for research and innovation

Camilla d'Angelo

Policy Officer

Last week the UK Government announced a major increase to immigration visa fees as well as the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). UK visa application fees are set to increase by at least 15%, and the IHS from £624 to £1035 per year, representing a 66% rise. This was announced as part of funding a pay-rise for public sector workers.

The Government’s large increases to visa fees undermine it’s ambitions for the UK to be a science superpower, and could have significant negative consequences for the UK’s ability to drive economic growth and improve livelihoods through science and technology.

This week our Deputy Executive Director Daniel Rathbone wrote to The Times to express our opposition to the news. In this piece we take a close look at the details of the proposed change, and the impact it could have.

CaSE letter to The Times

Read more

Why the UK needs an immigration system that attracts international talent

In our recently published report, The Skills Opportunity, CaSE has argued that the Government’s ambitions for a more research and innovation intensive UK can’t be met without an ambitious people strategy to match. The Government estimated in 2021 that the UK needed an additional 150,000 researchers and technicians by 2030 to go alongside planned increases in R&D investment. As we have outlined in our report, many of these will need to come from overseas.

There is a long-standing STEM skills shortage in the UK that will not be solved overnight, creating further need for immigration to fill crucial skills gaps. In addition, research is a global endeavour that benefits from collaboration across borders and boundaries. Migration brings great benefits for research, such as increasing collaboration and knowledge exchange.

The UK therefore needs an internationally competitive immigration offer to attract the world’s brightest and best researchers. Data from CaSE’s Discovery Decade study, a major study of public opinion, also shows that this has strong public support. In a nationally-representative poll, 72% of people agreed that they ‘want more of the world’s best scientists and innovators to work in the UK’.

What are the planned changes to visa and immigration costs?

The UK’s visa system is already one of the most expensive in the world. Analysis from the Royal Society has shown that the total upfront costs of visas are substantially higher in the UK compared to other research intensive countries.

The biggest upfront cost component is the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), which currently costs £624 per year. Under the Government’s plans, the IHS rate will increase to £1,035 per adult per year. The discounted rate will increase from £470 to £776 per child or student per year. This equates to a 66% increase.

The Global Talent visa (GTV) is the UK’s main dedicated route for talented and promising researchers and innovators. If an overseas researcher wants to come to the UK on a five-year GTV they currently have to pay £624 per year (a total of £3743 up front). For comparison, a researcher going to Germany would pay up front visa costs of about £100 or £250 to go to the US. Analysis from the Royal Society, which compared costs for the UK GTV to visa routes for researchers in other leading science nations, showed that this already represents a difference of 580% compared to the mean upfront fees for similar visa schemes. With the planned 15% increase the total upfront cost for a five-year GTV would jump to around £5,890 in upfront costs. With the planned changes, a family of four coming to the UK on a five-year Global Talent visa will be liable to pay around £20,980 upfront (up from £13,372 currently).

Visa and immigration costs

Source: CaSE analysis, *Visa fee increases of 15% have been proposed for work and visit visas but it is not yet certain how these will apply to individual visa types United Kingdom: Immigration Visa Fees, Health Surcharge to Increase | Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP.

The Skilled Worker visa is the primary immigration route for overseas individuals to live and work in the UK and is used by many working in the R&D sector. Skilled worker visa fees are currently even more expensive than the GTV, ranging from £625 to £1,423 per applicant, and are also set to rise significantly under the planned changes. Skilled workers also have to pay the IHS, leading to very substantial upfront costs.

Implications of the changes for research and innovation

Current UK visa costs represent a major barrier for those least able to afford it, particularly early career researchers. In a competitive international market for researchers, this risks making the UK less attractive to global talent compared to its competitors. This issue is compounded by the continued uncertainty surrounding the UK’s association to the Horizon Europe research programme. If the Government is serious about becoming a science superpower, then the UK has to have a competitive global offer, and more needs to be done to create a welcoming environment to attract and retain skilled researchers. The recent Lords Science and Technology Committee inquiry into people and skills in UK STEM also called for more affordable visa costs to ensure the UK takes a proactive and competitive approach to attract top talent. Otherwise, faced with such huge costs, the world’s brightest and best scientists will go elsewhere and everyone in the UK will lose out.