By Marianne Lagrue and Michelle Ezeuko
On March 7th, young migrants from campaign group Let us Learn gathered in parliament to tell their stories for the first time.
Their hopes were varied. Some wanted to become a chemical engineer, or a barrister, or simply to be able to live peacefully with family and not feel forced to lie to those around them about their circumstances.
But they all faced one overwhelming barrier to achieving these dreams: the exorbitant costs of applying for an immigration status to which they're already entitled.
Many of these young people have a form of immigration status known as 'limited leave to remain'. They have to reapply for this every 30 months, which involves completing a 60-page application form and paying a charge to the Home Office - plus a compulsory fee towards the running costs of the NHS. The immigration application cost rises every year.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, recognised the barrier created by fees in the social integration strategy for London earlier this month. He committed to calling on the government to reduce children's citizenship fees and abolish the profit the Home Office makes from children's citizenship.
It felt like a hopeful moment, as if politicians were finally starting to listen to young migrants. But on the same day as the strategy was published, the Home Office published a small, discrete notice: the fees will be rising again on April 6th.
The moral case for this is borderline non-existent.
Limited leave is granted in cases where an individual has been in the UK for a long time - long enough to have a clear human rights case to remain here. For a young person brought to the UK as a child, they may have no memory of life in another country, or no family or friends there.
When based on long residence, it is granted in chunks of 30 months. It is only after ten years, and four successful Home Office applications, that a young person would be eligible to apply for 'indefinite leave to remain' - a permanent status which finally puts an end to the cycle of making applications, putting your life in the hands of lawyers and saving money to pay Home Office fees.
Each application for limited leave, successful or not, will from April 6th cost £1,033 per person. This figure does not include the proposed £1,000 NHS charge that migrants will be asked to pay from later this year. Since 2015, when the charge was introduced, it has already doubled. Once immigration fees are introduced, the Home Office tends to ratchet them up pretty regularly.
Next month's fee rise and the proposed doubling of the NHS surcharge mean each person subject to these fees will now have to pay over £10,000 before they can obtain settled status. This figure does not include the cost of paying for legal advice.
At the new proposed rates, the Home Office is asking families to pay the equivalent of a deposit on a house in fees. A family of four would end up paying at least £42,084. The effect of this financial burden is often catastrophic. Day to day, families are paying more in immigration fees than the average UK household would pay for food in a year. We are impoverishing them simply so they can claim the status to which they are legally entitled.
The majority of these young people are from low income backgrounds and must shoulder the burden of the costs alone. Without access to student finance, many are faced with the choice of paying for their immigration fees or their degrees.
But in reality there is no choice. Young people who have been educated in the UK are blocked from realising their aspirations because they simply cannot save the money to pay for both. No child or young person should have to choose between their legal status and their education.
The fee itself cannot be justified on practical grounds. The Home Office’s own estimate of the actual administration cost is £142 to process a limited leave application and £243 for an indefinite leave application. Yet from next month the fees charged for such applications will be £1,033 and £2,389 respectively - almost ten times as high.
Settlement in the UK represents more than a stamp in a passport. It is an end to life 'subject to immigration control', constantly saving money for fees that keep rising before your eyes, living in fear of a 'hostile environment' that could close your bank account, take away your driving license or track your children down through their school census data at any moment. It closes the door on a regime that could see you detained indefinitely in immigration detention if the Home Office decides to remove you, or if you come to the attention of Home Office enforcement, even if it is because you are a witness to or victim of a crime. The fee for this peace of mind is 90% Home Office profit.
We need to do better by these young people. We can start now by addressing immigration fees and taking down the barriers that stand in the way of true integration.
Marianne Lagrue is policy officer at Coram Children’s Legal Centre and Michelle Ezeuko is a Let us Learn campaigner.
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