In a move that's set to affect South Africans eyeing the United Kingdom, visa and International Healthcare surcharge (IHS) fees have experienced significant hikes, with experts warning of potential financial obstacles for prospective immigrants.
UK immigration expert Gwen Vermeulen said the UK visa fee increase, implemented on October 4, has brought about substantial alterations in the immigration landscape.
This modification encompasses a wide range of visa categories, including work routes, family routes, student routes, and visitor visas.
According to a KPMG report, many of the visa application fees and Certificate of Sponsorship fees will increase by 15 to 20 percent.
This follows the UK government accepting the recommendations of the independent pay-review bodies in full to increase visa and Immigration Health Surcharge fees (IHS) as part of funding a pay raise for public-sector workers.
"The impact of these fee adjustments is immediate and palpable," Vermeulen said.
"Applicants will now find themselves shelling out more for their visa applications, a development that may pose a particular challenge for family members operating on tight budgets, given the strict financial requirements that must also be met."
Adding to the financial strain, it was announced this week that IHS fees would increase on January 16, a mere two months after the visa fee surge.
The IHS fee is a mandatory healthcare surcharge designed to provide visa holders with access to the UK's National Health Service during their stay.
The most significant jolt comes with the IHS fee increase, where applicants will now be required to pay an amount equivalent to £624 per year for adults to £1,035 - a staggering 66% increase, equivalent to approximately R14,434 to R23,944.
According to the new visa fee structure, a short stay will increase from £100 to £115 (R2,645), a two-year visa will increase from £376 to £400 (R9,200), a five-year visa will increase from £670 to £771 (R17,733), while a 10-year visa will increase from £837 to £963 (R22,149).
"Prospective applicants must stay well-informed about these fee increments and adjust their financial plans accordingly," Vermeulen said.
"To successfully navigate these changes, it is crucial to submit all applications before the 66% increase in IHS fees takes effect in January 2024."
However, for those facing financial constraints, there may be a glimmer of hope. Vermeulen highlights the possibility of a fee waiver for certain individuals who wish to apply for a UK visa but cannot afford the standard fees.
Fee waivers are intended to ensure that financial limitations do not deter vulnerable or low-income individuals from accessing essential immigration services. Eligibility typically depends on factors such as the applicant's income, household size, and the receipt of specific government benefits.
"While fee waivers offer relief, not all applicants will qualify, as they are primarily intended for individuals in financial hardship. Careful consideration and consultation with our office are essential to effectively navigate the application process," Vermeulen added.