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Migration Observatory analyses show the high cost of becoming a British citizen, and risks of exploitation for care workers after dependants ban.

05 Apr 2024

Two new analyses published today (Friday April 5th 2024) by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford show: 

1) that between entering the UK on a temporary visa and becoming a British citizen, most migrants will pay cumulative fees of between £5,000 and £37,000, depending on the visa type and whether they have dependants—contributing to a £2bn-per-year income stream for the Home Office. 


2) that while the government’s ban on care workers bringing dependants will reduce the number of people entering the UK on care visas, the decision is expected to increase care workers’ risks of exploitation. 

The two new pieces – Q&A: Immigration fees in the UK and The ban on care workers’ family members: what will be the impact? both examine recent policy changes that govern legal migration and settlement in the UK, following recent high levels of net migration. They also highlight important trade-offs, including impacts on migrants and their families. 

The first piece Q&A: Immigration fees in the UK examines the sharp increase in the cost of visas, settlement and citizenship. It shows that at the lower end of the spectrum, a skilled worker outside of the health or care sector without family members would expect to pay cumulative fees of around £11,200 in the 6 to 7 years between entry and citizenship. However, costs are much higher for people bringing family members or who face ten-year routes to settlement. A parent and child on a ten-year route to settlement in the ‘family life’ category would face total fees of £36,700 before becoming a British citizen, while a skilled worker bringing a partner and one child (outside the health and care route) would pay around £32,000.  

Health and care workers pay the lowest total fees, at just over £5,000 for a worker with no family, but bringing a partner and two children would hike their cumulative fees between entry and citizenship to £19,500. 

Most immigration fees are higher than the cost of processing the application, with a surplus ranging from £311 on study visas to £2,239 on settlement applications. The government collected more than £2 billion from these fees in the financial year 2022/23. It uses the profit to subsidize wider immigration-related activities not linked to the individual applicant, such as immigration enforcement and refugee resettlement.  

The second piece The ban on care workers’ family members: what will be the impact? shows that not allowing care workers to bring partners or children to the UK is expected to have significant impact the number of people migrating to the UK, but does not address the two fundamental problems in the care worker route: poor pay and conditions facing all workers (including British), and exploitation of work visa holders. In fact, the authors argue that not having partners in the UK will increase risks of exploitation by making it harder for care workers to leave abusive employers. On the other hand, not allowing care workers’ children to come to the UK reduces the risk of UK-based child poverty, given that care workers have very low wages and no recourse to public funds (welfare benefits).  

Dr Ben Brindle, researcher for the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, and co-author on both reports said: “The UK’s unusually high immigration fees have helped the government to fund a substantial share of its immigration and asylum functions, but there’s a trade-off. The financial burden on migrants themselves is now significant, especially if they have family members included in their applications. 

“The care sector has been a significant factor behind the recent increase in migration to the UK, and until the ban on dependants came into force, many brought their partners or children. Preventing care workers from bringing family will almost certainly reduce overall migration levels. However, it is also likely to make care workers more vulnerable to exploitation, which we know has been a major problem in the sector. This is because workers without partners are more isolated and lack the protection a second income can bring.” 


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