By Lucy McDaid, ITV News Westminster Producer
UK migrant workers will soon have to pay more than quadruple what they did five years ago to use the NHS, as the government says it needs the cash to pay for public sector wage rises of up to 7%.
Despite a raft of well-documented worker shortages across a range of UK industries from engineering to hospitality, the NHS fee for international workers is set to go up to £1,035 a year - a 418% increase over five years.
That means a worker moving to the UK on a five-year visa, for example, would have to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge lump sum of £5,175 up-front, along with visa application fees, which will also go up.
Health and care staff, and their dependents, are exempt from paying the IHS, which was first introduced by the Conservative government in 2015 at £200 a year.
The latest round of proposed fee changes are part of a significant uplift in migration charges announced by Rishi Sunak this week, which plan to raise half of the £2 billion needed by the government to fund public sector wage rises.
Which migrant fees are going up?
The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) - increasing from £624 a year to £1,035
IHS for students and Under-18s - increasing from £470 a year to £776
Work and visit visas up by 15% - increasing a skilled worker visa from £625 to £718.75
Indefinite leave to remain (ILR) applications up by at least 20% - increasing from £2,404 to at least £2,880. This is the status before a migrant can transition from a visa to citizenship
British Citizenship up by at least 20% - increasing from £1,330 to at least £1,596
Others - including study visas, settlement, wider entry clearance, certificates of sponsorship and priority visas- would also go up by at least 20%
Madeleine Sumption, Director of The Migration Observatory, said the higher fees could put off international workers from coming to the UK and predicts those most affected will be families, whose costs could go up by thousands.
But the government has rejected the concerns, with the prime minister's spokesperson saying the changes are not expected to "impact on recruitment or filling positions"
On Thursday, the prime minister accepted the recommendations of independent pay review bodies, which will see millions of public sector workers like teachers and police officers receive wage increases of up to 7%.
But in a bid to reduce any negative impact on the stubbornly high inflation rate, Mr Sunak and his Chancellor Jeremy Hunt ruled out any more government borrowing to fund them.
Instead, the wage rises will be bankrolled through a combination of migrant fee increases and what the government is calling a 're-prioritisation' of existing departmental budgets, which has sparked worries of spending cuts in other areas.
Setting out the details of the rate rises on Thursday, Chief Secretary to the Treasury John Glen said the increased health surcharge will help fund pay rises for doctors.
NHS consultants, GPs and dentists have been offered 6%, while junior doctors have been recommended 6% with an additional consolidated increase of £1,250.
The prime minister's spokesperson said on Friday this actually amounts to an average rise of 8.8% for junior doctors and 10.3% for the lowest paid.
Mr Glen also said the increased migrant charges, which come at a time of "record high migration," will help cover the costs of the migration system to help the Home Secretary Suella Braverman divert cash towards the uplift for police officers.
But there are concerns already being expressed about what impact the charges could have on migrants coming to the UK, at a time of severe work shortages across so many sectors.
Free movement, a website set up by a barrister and campaigner who specialises in immigration law, reports that the cost of a settlement application could now rise to at least £2,885 per person. For a family of four, it reports, the cost could soar to more than £30,000.
Colin Yeo, who runs the site, has warned the increases will be "very expensive" for migrants and their families, calling them an "unfair tax on falling in love with a foreigner."
Ms Sumption from The Migration Observatory gives a mixed verdict, predicting the impacts will "fall unevenly" on different groups of migrants.
Skilled workers may see their employers absorb some of the costs, she says, but implications for family migrants wanting to come to the UK will be "far more serious".
"There's already evidence some people go into debt to pay the fees and this will presumably become more widespread," she explained on Twitter.
The government has not set out a timeline for when the fee increases will be introduced.
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