Real and Hidden Cost of UK Visas – Tips on how to minimise the cost

Moving from one’s country of birth can be both exciting and scary, be it for temporary periods such as a student or more permanently, for example as the spouse of a British national applying for settlement. However, it can also be very expensive. This article seeks to highlight the costs and some potential savings of UK immigration, which should be one of the considerations for anyone looking to move or stay here legally.

Published Application fees:

The clearest and most obvious expense is what is referred to as an Application fee, which is an amount of money that is normally paid electronically online directly to the Home Office as part of the application. This fee is usually updated annually by the Home Office, with new fees published on the government website at the start of April. The current fees for all UK visa applicants can be found here!

Example: John, a British national residing in London, the UK, has recently married his long term girlfriend Allison, an American national who lives in Texas. Both are musicians and have chosen to live in London, which would be beneficial for their careers. Allison would need to apply for a Spouse Visa, which would cost at least £1,523.

NB: this is the only the application fee.

Hidden Costs

Unfortunately, the already high figure quoted above is not even the minimum amount the said applicant would need to pay. Since 2015 the government has introduced what is called an Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), which initially was £200 per year but has recently increased to a whopping £624 per year. Bearing in mind that this MUST be paid in advance and as part of the application, when added to the visa application fee the minimum that our example applicant would spend is £3,395;

This includes the £1523 Application fee for the visa from the US and £1,872 IHS Fee (£624 x 3 years as the visa is granted for 33 months).

In addition to the IHS, there are also other fees that may apply depending on your circumstances, location at the time of application and nationality; these include:

  • Biometric Enrolment fee – this is normally £19.20 for most applications from within the UK.
  • Visa /Biometric Centre fee – this depends on the locality; in the UK this ranges from £72 to £200 if you don’t go to limited visa core centres, which release their appointments at midnight. For an application from abroad some centres charge about £55.
  • Optional services – this applies to applications both from abroad and in the UK; you have to submit the application passport work and biometric by a government contracted 3rd party (TLScontact, VFSglobal or UKVCAS), who then try to up-sell you extra services e.g. the UKCAS Document Scanning service at £51 per person. Strictly speaking these are not necessary but a lot of applicants book the appointment unaware that there may be extra steps needed, thus end up having to pay extra unnecessary fees.
  • Tuberculosis tests – this applies to applicants from abroad, except for in a few countries, who must have a Tuberculosis tests scan if they are applying for a visa to come to the UK for more than six months – the fee for TB screening is set by the clinic and can range from £50 to £200 each.
  • English Exams – Most applications e.g. Student Visa or Spouse Visa, require a certain level of English, which cannot be met if the applicant does not come from a limited number of recognised English speaking countries, unless you have an English taught degree or have passed an English exam from a specialty college, which costs about £150. Please note: that this is regardless of whether the applicant has spoken English since they were a child as part of their national language, such as in Kenya or India. If the applicant doesn’t have a UK degree they will need to sit the exam or obtain a certificate of compatibility from NARIC to meet the English requirement, which also costs around £150, but can be reused for other applications.
  • Priority – this is an optional service, which you may wish to pay for; essentially it is a service to have the visa application considered faster. This costs £575 Priority service from abroad for a settlement visa and £800 from within the UK (Super Priority Service).
  • Legal fee – this is also optional, but depending on the complexity and the amount you stand to lose, many applicants would be well advised to shop around for a good qualified immigration solicitor, who will help navigate the sometimes complex application process – please see our published legal fees, but note that there is no standard solicitor fee; it depends on the qualifications / experience of the lawyer and the complexity of the case.

Onwards Ever, Backwards Never! Fees keep on increasing

Unfortunately, UK Immigration law keeps changing, with more and more restrictions imposed and prohibitively higher and higher fees demanded by the government, who feel emboldened by the fact that recent governments have gained success with anti-immigration policies and promises to reduce UK net immigration. Some of the most noticeable changes are the costs of UK visas, which over the last 10 years have drastically increased. The period it takes for an applicant to acquire a settlement has also almost doubled since major rules changes in 2012.

The UK visa fee (a cost that is paid to the government as part of the application) has seen a 319.14% increase over the last 10 years e.g. the application above would have cost £810 total in September 2011. See below the fee increases since then:

Type of Visa

Spouse Visa from Abroad

Spouse Visa from the UK

Priority Spouse Visa from the UK

Tier 2 General Work Visa from abroad for 3 years

Indefinite Leave to Remain

2011 (from April)

£810

£550 (normal application)

£850 (same date decision as you wait)

£400

£875

Current (Sept 2021)

£3,395 (including IHS)

£2,593 – normal service

£3,393 – (priority decision in 24 hours)

£2,482

£2,389

How does the UK Compare to other countires

Although it is difficult to compare like for like with other developed countries such as Australia, America, and Canada, it is fair to say that the UK immigration process is comparably more expensive, with many visa applications required to attain settlement (i.e. Indefinite Legal to Remain – where an applicant is no longer required to apply for more visas to stay in the UK).

Example for America: A Spouse moving for settlement to America (Marriage-Based Visa (I-130)) could be looking at a total cost of about $1200, with a foreign spouse becoming a permanent resident as soon as he or she enters the United States. This is in contrast to the UK Spouse Visa process, in which the total cost of applications for a permanent resident would be a minimum of £5,784 * (Spouse visa from abroad £3,395, Spouse extension after 2.5 years £2,593 and Indefinite leave to remain after 5 years £2,389) .

Thus from the first glance, it would take 5 years longer and cost almost £5,000 more to permanently settle in the UK than in America.

Although the UK visa is processed quicker in comparison, the cost is astronomic and the process is long.

Tips: How to save on the cost of your UK Visa Application

There is no hiding from the fact that UK immigration is expensive, however, we have identified some ways to avoid paying for optional or additional things that applicants don’t need. Here are our top tips:

  • Switch as soon as you can: each visa has its own path to settlement, thus applicants should consider swapping to the shortest route wherever possible. For example, if you are on the 10 year partner route, you should consider swapping to the 5 year route as soon as you qualify, as this will reduce the visas you need to apply for before attaining permanent stay.
  • Apply for the right visa: This is something that can save you £1000s. For example, if an applicant has the option of applying for a Fiancé Visa or getting married abroad and then applying for a Spouse Visa, opting for getting married abroad and then applying for the Spouse Visa will normally save you from having to apply for two visas in a short span of time and therefore save you money – of course where you get married requires many other considerations, including ability of family to attend.
  • Consider a Fee waiver: If you are destitute or at the verge of destitution, it is possible to apply for a fee when applying for a visa from within the UK, but this does come with long term implications, as this often extends the period needed to obtain ILR. For example visas often have a financial requirement and will switch you from 5 years route to 10 years route if you apply under fee waiver as the visa could only be granted under Human Rights.
  • Use NARIC instead of the English exam where possible – many applicants have a foreign degree which was taught in English; a certificate of compatibility from NARIC can be used for subsequent applications, whereas the English Exam certificates expire in two years. As the cost is the same it makes more sense to apply for the NARIC option if possible.
  • Hire appropriate help: with most UK visas costing an ‘arm and a leg’ and the process riddled with pitfalls it is wise to consider hiring a qualified UK Immigration lawyer / solicitor to assist with the process and give your application the best changes of it being granted the first time, as appeals and reapplications can be even more expensive and complicated. It is important to conduct thorough research and ask for recommendations of a good lawyer, as a competent UK solicitor can save you from having to pay extra fees; some of the services charged for, such as uploading documents, can be completed by your solicitor and some of the biometric appointments are free if you know how the system works.

Overall the more effort you put into the preparation of your application the smoother and ultimately cheaper the road to settlement will be.

Expensive but faster processing; is it worth it?

Overall the UK immigration process is one of the most expensive in the world and it is a relatively fast process compared to other countries (in the USA it takes  13.5 and 19 months to obtain a green card for a spouse coming from abroad, compared to 12 weeks for a UK visa).

Whereas Migration should support itself, the development of Immigration law in the UK is becoming more and more difficult, with the government finding ways to double tax migrants (e.g. Migrant workers normally pay National Insurance contributions, which also go to the NHS, however they also contribute through the IHS).

Despite all these measures, the UK remains an attractive destination for migrants due to its diverse culture, relative safety, and good health and school systems. Thus despite the government’s continuous increases in fees, UK net migration has continued to grow steadily over the last 10 years. However, one is left to wonder how this has affected the ability of migrant families to financially support themselves. Should the government be covering the running of immigration services or be making a huge profit at the expense of migrant families, who will ultimately become part of British society? It is becoming clear that we do need migrant workers and high fees may put off those who have the option of going elsewhere. If the government is serious about attracting the brightest and best of overseas talent then it may pay dividends to rethink the high cost of UK immigration.

Please feel free to share and comment to raise awareness of these issues. Also, if you have been affected by any of these immigration rule changes and need a quick chat with a UK Immigration Solicitor, do not hesitate to contact Tito Mbariti for a free one-off, no-obligation general immigration advice consultation via either phone, WeChat, Facetime or Skype. You may contact us by filling in our Quick Enquiry form any time you need professional support or have any questions. Alternatively, you can call us during office hours on 07544669131 / 0116 3800 744