A migrant help organisation has warned that thousands of people could fall “deeper into poverty and insecurity” as the healthcare levy is more than doubled from next month.
The immigration health surcharge (IHS) will rise by 66% for those applying to come to or stay in the UK on or after February 6, the Government has confirmed.
MPs approved the substantial rise earlier this month.
The standard rate will rise 66%, from £624 to £1,035 a year, with a reduced rate that applies to visas for students, those under 18 and young adults on a youth mobility scheme set to rise 65% from £470 to £776.
The healthcare surcharge has to be paid by most visa or immigration applicants who are staying in the UK for more than six months.
A House of Commons research paper published in November quoted a Home Office estimate that around 1.5 million visas or visa extensions were granted on routes liable for the surcharge in the year to June 2023.
In a written statement on Tuesday, legal migration minister Tom Pursglove said people coming to the UK on visas should make a “sufficient financial contribution” towards the cost of services such as the NHS.
He said: “The new rate reflects the increases in healthcare expenditure and better reflects NHS service use by payers, remembering that payment of the charge provides near comprehensive access to our health service.
“The level of IHS will be kept under regular review to ensure it covers the cost of treating IHS payers.”
But a charity working with migrants on the front line said the reality for many is they are already struggling to pay for bills and food and will face challenges in trying to afford the much higher surcharge.
Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz, Praxis policy and public affairs manager, said: “Fees are already eye-wateringly high.
“Hiking them even further – and well above inflation – will push thousands deeper into poverty and insecurity.
“And these are people who, in many cases, have already been living in our communities for many years, working and contributing to the NHS through the taxes they already pay.
“At Praxis, every day we see people already struggling to afford bills and food while they try and save the thousands needed for these fees, especially as the cost-of-living crisis drags on.
“Instead of treating people who were born outside the UK as cash cows to be tapped when the need arises, the Government should be doing everything it can to get control of the cost-of-living crisis and ensure that every household has the support they need.”
Single mother Jagruti Patel said she feels depressed at the prospect of having to try to save thousands of pounds for the higher charge.
The 36-year-old, who said life is already a struggle as she tries to provide for her nine-year-old daughter, said the Government was “squeezing” migrants for any money they might have.
She told the PA news agency: “I feel a depression, like this is going to affect my health. I don’t have (this much) in my account.
“Each month I need to manage how I can pay the bills and buy food. I never buy for me, everything goes to my daughter and into our home. At the end of the month I might have £10. I can’t save.”
Ms Patel, who is from India and now lives in Croydon, said her daughter, who “loves animals” and wants to become a vet, sometimes becomes upset because her mother cannot afford to buy her new football shoes or clothes.
Asked what she would say to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Ms Patel said: “He is not getting the people who really need a hand. He needs to help instead of just making fees higher.
“He is squeezing, he is not thinking ‘this is a human being in need’.”
Ms Patel is currently in the process of trying to become a teaching assistant but said she has struggled with delays in the process including proving her entitlement to work.
These are difficulties Praxis said it sees “time and time again”.
It said: “While people wait for their papers to be processed it is notoriously difficult for them to get jobs as they are left with no paper document proving their right to work or access support.”