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‘Borderline racist’: critics slam Rishi Sunak’s plan to fund pay rise with higher migrant fees

Currently, the government is planning to accumulate funds to support the public sector pay rise by increasing the fees charged for visa applications and NHS access for migrants. However, this plan has faced opposition from charities and unions, who view it as unfair and intentionally divisive. The proposed increase in immigration fees could place a financial strain on many individuals and lead to worker confrontations. Trade bodies and organizations are also concerned that this could result in higher labour costs and inflation, which would impact the overall economy.


These criticisms emerged after Prime Minister Sunak announced another public sector pay rise last week. The immigration health surcharge, which migrants are required to pay before submitting a visa application, will rise from £624 to £1,035 per year, a 417% increase compared to five years ago. The fee for international students and children will also increase from £470 to £776 per year. Additionally, fees for various visas, leave to remain, and certificates of sponsorship will also see an increase. For a family of four moving to the UK, the total immigration cost could be as high as £33,000.


Sunak stated that this fee increase would help raise £1 billion, and that he preferred this approach over borrowing more. However, several critics have expressed concerns that higher immigration fees would have negative impacts both on individuals, and the overall wider economy. The significant upfront cost of immigration fees could force many workers to reconsider relocating to the UK.


Maja Davidović, an international relations lecturer at Cardiff University, argued that addressing public sector issues should not solely rely on transferring the burden to migrants, as it would cause significant harm to society, fostering further xenophobia and hostility towards immigrants, which is already prevalent under the current government’s already divisive and, many would argue, borderline racist policies.


The Liberal Democrats voiced their opposition, pointing out that current immigration fees are already at a high level, hindering immigration to the UK and exacerbating workforce shortages in various sectors. Further fee increases would affect international workers across industries such as engineering, academia, factory work, hospitality, and the international students who contributed £37.4 billion to the UK economy in the 2021-22 financial year. International students, in particular, will face severe limitations under the new policy, as they will no longer be eligible to apply for work visas during their studies, only being eligible after graduation, which also means additional visa expenses before obtaining a work permit.


The opposition parties believe that the decision to increase immigration fees is unfair and places an unjust burden on the immigrant population, rather than properly funding the public sector pay rise. This conflict between opposing views and the government’s claim of fairness in raising immigration fees has created significant tension.

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