Many young people, full of opportunistic optimism, can chase their dreams never really questioning their belonging in the UK as their home. Young migrants, despite living in the UK since childhood, are robbed of this certainty and the advantages it brings. An estimated 330,000 young people in the UK currently have precarious immigration status. Most embark on the long and arduous 10 year journey to citizenship, carefully constructed by the Home Office to be a hostile and costly one.
The Current Journey to Citizenship
All migrants must have ‘temporary’ status for years, and often a whole decade, before they can apply for British citizenship. Usually, young migrants who want to regularise their status due to growing up here, are placed on a 10 year long route to settlement. ‘Leave to remain’ applications must be made every two and a half years until eventually, they can apply for ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’.
As of 2021, the cost for each ‘leave to remain’ application stands at £2593, per person, which must be paid up-front. This includes £1033 as a Home Office fee and £1560 which contributes to the immigration ‘health surcharge’.
For the same status in 2014, costs to pay were £601, an increase of 331% in 6 years. With current prices, migrants are forced to pay £12,771 over 10 years to be allowed to live and settle in the UK.
The proven profiteering of the Home Office and the immense struggle placed on migrants embarking on this pathway showcases that this system must be changed
High numbers of young migrants seeking to secure their status means high profits. On every ‘leave to remain’ application made, the Home Office currently makes 86% profit of £891. Administration fees cost a measly £142. The department stated this occurs as the immigration system is designed to be funded by those who use it. However, this seems wildly unnecessary since many of the migrants on the 10 year pathway will be working and paying taxes, and are therefore already contributing to the costs of government services.
With current prices, migrants are forced to pay £12,771 over 10 years to be allowed to live and settle in the UK.
Young People at Risk
We Belong is a migrant led youth organisation fighting to end the hostile environment around immigration, including that caused by the price rise in ‘leave to remain’ fees. Their latest campaign, LockedInFees, is pushing for Parliament to debate on the reduction of visa fees, due to their incredibly detrimental impact on young lives.
Young people subject to these fees are often pushed into poverty and financial struggle due to the upfront nature of the payments, their report found. Larger families who are all required to go through the process face ending up in tens of thousands of pounds of debt.
This system extorts and puts young people’s futures in jeopardy, all to uphold the hostile environment surrounding immigration
Shahmir came to the UK from Pakistan when he was 5 and was granted ‘limited leave to remain’ when he was 19. He is now beginning his 10 year pathway, which has placed his family in financial instability, impacting on both their mental and physical health. In total, his family has accrued a debt of £27,000 through trying to pay Home Office and legal fees.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated such struggles for young migrants like Shahmir. Over a third of 18-24 year olds have been reported to lose employment in the past year. This impacts on their ability to pay the visa fees, and for those with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’, job losses can leave them vulnerable to destitution.
For those that can prove they are forced into destitution, the Home Office claim they will waiver fees. However, 72-90% of applications in 2015-18 were rejected due to high evidence thresholds.
Unjustly, migrants with rejected waiver applications must pay up within 10 days. If not, they lose their immigration status and right to work, rent and study, and leaves them open to potential immigration enforcement and deportation. All progress already made on the 10 year pathway is also lost and sets them back to the beginning.
COVID-19 has exacerbated such struggles for young migrants like Shahmir. Over a third of 18-24 year olds have been reported to lose employment in the past year
For young people, their futures are repeatedly jeapordised, all to uphold the hostile environment for profit.
What Must Be Done
As part of their campaign, We Belong are fighting for the reduction of visa fees to the cost of processing for each application. They also push for a shorter, five year route to permanent status to show support for the young people that have grown up in the UK and have created strong ties to British society.
“You spend your entire life saving towards a goal that’s constantly moving forward”
This wish is being backed by Regularise, another migrant run organisation committed to amplifying migrant voices. A regularisation scheme that allowed permanent settlement after five years would create better pathways to accessing housing, healthcare and employment due to reductions in visa costs and strenuous application processes. It would also allow for a better quality of life, in which young migrants could chase their dreams without fear of deportation.
With plans for the cost of nationality application fees to be increased in April, changes need to come quickly. As a young spokesperson for We Belong stated, ‘You spend your entire life saving towards a goal that’s constantly moving forward.’
Home Office Accountability
Fortunately, Labour MP Meg Hillier, has shown support for this issue. In response to such campaigns, she has initiated a debate in Parliament on the reduction of nationality application fees, set for Thursday 25th March at 1:30pm.
‘Many young people came to this country as children and only know life and education in the UK. Young people who will never live anywhere other than in the country that is their home are being forced into second class status’, said Hillier of the need for the debate.
This could be a vital stepping stone to improving the quality of life for young migrants on the journey to achieving permanent status.
Spokespeople for the Home Office have reiterated time and time again that such fees are designed to reduce the burden of running the immigration system on the taxpayer. However, this does not explain the neglect that the department is showing for the rights of young people, and why they are making it so hard for young migrants to pursue lawful routes to achieving settled status in the UK.
Many young people [who] came to this country as children and only know life and education in the UK are being forced into second class status
Belonging has become synonymous with citizenship, and this is problematic. Visa fees are forcing young migrants into a position in which their belonging in the UK is dependent upon financial capabilities. The decision to charge young people for citizenship calls into question what it means to be a UK citizen and who deserves that status.
The Home Office must take accountability in Thursday’s debate on the nationality application fees for their profiteering off of young people. It is vital that the prices are cut to ensure that migrant young people get the start in life they deserve, rather than being plagued with financial instability and fear of deportation.
[Header Image Source: Manchester Immigration Lawyers]