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The cost of migration in post-Brexit Britain

There are many fees and charges both employers and individuals need to be aware of

On 29 March MPs rejected Theresa May’s Withdrawal Plan for the third ‘meaningful’ time so the UK only has until 12 April to find a way to extend negotiations or crash out with no deal (though May has requested that this be extended until the end of June).

However, regardless of whether the UK leaves with a deal or not, the ‘skills-based’ immigration plan that brings stringent visa regulations and hefty fees for all future EU entrants is scheduled to come into effect by 2021.

For many businesses and recruiters this will mean preparing – and budgeting – ahead.

Visa fees and immigration charges have soared in the past decade, way past inflation. Some prices have rocketed in the past five years alone: the cost to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain has increased by 127% during this timeframe. The latest jump in prices occurred only weeks ago on 7 March, although most costs rose by a couple of pounds.

After Brexit, however, UK employers will feel the financial strain as they double their expenditure on recruiting staff. Every non-UK recruit, including EU nationals, will need to be processed under the immigration rules (which are far from cheap).

Employers will be required to complete and pay for a sponsor licence application, which can cost up to £25,000. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) criticised this process last year for being overtly complicated, administratively time-consuming and expensive. Sponsor licences need to be renewed every four years too, so it’s not just a one-off payment.

Immigration fees do not end there, either. Once a licence has been obtained every new potential recruit must be issued a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) by their new employer. Businesses that recruit EU and international staff will be required to pay £199 every time for their certificate and a further £1,000 each for the Skills Charge. While this appears only minor, the fees could deter small businesses and start-ups from hiring from across the continent at all.

It’s no secret the UK has long relied on EU talent to fill workforce shortages and vacancies. Yet fees for migrants are now so high that businesses are concerned the charges will put migrants off from the UK.

First of all, hopeful migrants looking to move to the UK for five years must pay the hefty £2,000 Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). This allows them to access the NHS while in the UK and is applicable to all migrants, including children and dependents.

Migrants must also ensure they can meet the requirements – and pay for – their visa. Most entrants will need to fill in a Tier 2 Visa application, which costs £1,220. This doesn’t include English language tests, any document translation services, priority/fast-track services or even emailing the Home Office, which costs £5.48 from outside the UK.

Exacerbating the mounting fees is the fact that discounts for second and additional children were axed in 2014, meaning an average family moving to the UK is looking at paying thousands just for the paperwork.

There are very few instances when migrants qualify for a fee waiver. However, one way migrants could benefit from a marginal discount is by applying for a job on the UK Shortage Occupation List. This resource exists to list the occupations that the UK has struggled to fill with residential and local talent. Sectors such as engineering, IT, medical practitioners, actuaries, social workers and paramedics – just to name a few – currently feature on the list.

While the immigration process and visa system are laborious to navigate, if the prices aren’t relaxed in post-Brexit Britain the UK could suffer a huge loss of EU talent. Many businesses could turn to relying solely on British workers to avoid the fees, placing them at a great advantage when it comes to staying competitive in the market.

As final decisions are now underway, anxieties are understandably rising over the post-Brexit British landscape. Yet without relaxed fees, EU migrants might prefer to take up a job in one of the remaining EU member states where migration is free and frictionless. As a result, the UK’s economy will suffer, while skills gaps, vacancies and job insecurity thrives.

Olivia Bridge is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service