Folasade works as a health care assistant in the West Midlands. In addition to the unimaginable stress of working in the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic, she has the endless fear of not being able to afford the next round of visa applications.
“When it’s time for you to renew, look for money everywhere,” she says. “You have no money to save on school, rent, car insurance. My son is finishing college and I want him to study, but it is financially difficult. ”
Folasade works as hard as possible to make ends meet, often giving up family time or sick leave: “I work six days a week so I can pay for everything and it’s still not enough, me still have debts. I don’t have time with my children because I have to work so much. I had a headache the other day, felt feverish, and sweated. I drank some water and took some paracetamol, but I have to keep working. ”
Since joining the UK from Nigeria in 2009, Folasade has spent an estimated £ 15,000 on visa fees and related expenses. The next time she renews her visa, she will have to pay £ 1,033 – and she fears that there could be an additional £ 1,560 for the Immigration Health Surcharge. Some NHS staff are now exempt from this fee, but it’s not clear if it includes health assistants.
Your situation is not uncommon – tens of thousands of people across the UK face these penalty costs every 2.5 years just to apply for permission to stay in the country they now live in. Families face particularly high costs as a family of four has spent at least £ 53,000 in the 10+ years from arriving in the UK to obtaining citizenship. That comes on top of taxes, rent, utilities, food, etc. – all the regular living expenses.
The effects can be devastating. Parents are faced with the choice of feeding their children and maintaining their right to stay. Others no longer have legal status. Women are disproportionately affected, especially BAME women.
Since the fees are significantly higher than the cost of processing the application (usually between £ 200-300), they are unfair even in normal times. During a pandemic, when many people have lost their jobs, have lower incomes, or are on unpaid sick leave for weeks or months, they are unjustifiable.
However, the government did nothing. They even defended the charges; Earlier this year, a Home Secretary suggested that migrants should rely on investments or savings to pay application fees. Not only is this terrifyingly non-contact, but it also shows the government’s continuing tendency to prioritize migrants with affluent people.
It was especially shocking to hear this during the Covid-19 pandemic. If anything has been underscored by the newfound appreciation of frontline workers in this country, it is the mistake of evaluating people by their salary. In 2021, we at Migrant Voice will step up our campaign to raise the voices of Folasade and others like you – and to call for change.
We would like these discriminatory fees to be reduced to the cost of handling them and that fees for children be abolished. It’s not a radical question – currently the UK visa fees are far higher than most European countries, where temporary visas are often just 100 euros – but it’s a logical and humane question.
We also want the government to really listen to the people who are impoverished by these extortionate charges. This is particularly important to Folasade.
“I don’t feel like I have heard from the government,” she says. “You don’t know what I’m going through. We are human too. I want to be heard. ”