7 January 2019
It is no secret that the NHS has been struggling in recent years. They have been burdened by understaffing and a general lack of financial resources to properly accommodate both UK residents and those from abroad. The government, in 2015, introduced a ‘surcharge’ to cover the cost of treating residents who were in the UK on long term visas, including partner and spouse visas. It gave them the same access to NHS services as UK citizens and EU nationals.
The government has recently decided to raise the NHS fee for all visa categories that are longer than six months, including those applying for a UK settlement spouse or unmarried partner visa as well as further leave to remain (FLR) under the five-year partner route. Some have welcomed this move as a boost for the NHS, whereas others have derided what they see as more cost increases in a visa system which is already considered expensive. The timing of the move has left little time for applicants to prepare for the rise in fees. An exact date was not specified for the increase until now, and it is unclear why the government did not provide full transparency.
The changes come into effect from 8 January 2018. The immigration health surcharge will increase from £200 to £400 a year. For families, it affects every applicant as all dependents usually pay the same rate as the main applicant. This could considerably increase the total cost of a UK spousal or partner visa application. People on visitor visas will not be affected by the surcharge changes. They will continue to pay for NHS treatment at the point of access. The health surcharge provides full access to NHS services, but users are still required to pay prescription fees. The increases will not affect residents of the UK (indefinite leave to remain holders or applicants) who will continue to have the same access to NHS services.
Students and those on the youth mobility scheme currently pay a lower charge of £150 per year. This will rise to £300 per year once the changes have been applied. The youth mobility scheme is available for certain students from specific countries, and it allows a stay of up to 24 months within the UK. For overseas students, the charges are still relatively minuscule compared to their total costs.
It is claimed that the rise in costs will allow the NHS to receive a £220M in total funding. In theory, the charges could be directly given back to services throughout the country. However, the reality is more complex, and the nature of the visa process means that the NHS will not immediately receive all of the money. Government visa fees and the NHS itself lending or paying the surcharge makes a realistic projection difficult to obtain.
The changes have been made to better adapt to the rising costs of providing NHS care. Although the rises may seem steep, they still offer a comparatively good deal for residing in the UK. Estimates state that the NHS pays around £470 per person for those eligible to pay for the surcharge. All immigration applications that are longer than six months will be affected by the surcharge. It can be paid online as part of an application or even if the application is made through a visa centre from abroad. Postal FLR applications also require the fee to be paid online; with the reference number being attached to the application before it is sent. It is vital for applicants to check if they are eligible to pay the surcharge and whether they will be affected by the new charges. In general, all applications made after the 8th January will be liable to pay the new rates. If an application was submitted before this date, then it is advisable to check with the home office if an applicant will be able to submit their application under the old rates.
EU residents do not have to pay any surcharge. Britain has not yet left the European Union, and therefore EU residents have full rights to use the NHS service. This could soon change, and EEA nationals living in the UK may face a similar surcharge. It is dependent on the type of deal that the UK can strike with the European Union. Negotiations are ongoing, and the situation continues to be uncertain. We provide updates if there is any news with regards to EU residents and access to the NHS. The current outlook remains unpredictable.
The UK visa immigration health surcharge (IHS) essentially doubles for applicants from the 8th of January. There will be no delays to this increase, and it won’t be phased out to certain groups. It will take effect immediately, which means it is vital to understand if an applicant is required to pay these fees as a part of a visa application. We will provide updates if there are any other changes with the surcharge. The government in recent years has been quick to roll out changes in the immigration process with little prior warning.