International students don’t have it easy, from starting their University experience in an unfamiliar place to going through stringent processes to secure their place on campus. It can be an arduous process. For International and EU Students in the UK, the process is complicated and expensive due to the Immigration Health Surcharge. Although this mandatory inclusion of surcharge to access healthcare has been met with severe criticism, it does not seem like this fee will be waived off for students any time soon.
What is the Immigration Health Surcharge?
The Immigration Health Surcharge, also referred to as the NHS Surcharge, is an additional sum levied on International Students who aim to pursue a course in the UK that is longer than six months. To access healthcare while in the UK, students need to pay more than £1,000 and their visa application. The Immigration Surcharge cost of around £470 per year has increased to more than £600 per year. Hence, any student who wishes to pursue a course of study for three years or more ends up paying more than £1,000 upfront while applying for their student visa. The final amount is calculated based on the duration of the course and their stay after they have completed their course. Hence, the final sum can end up costing a lot for International Students.
Hence, the process ends up being quite expensive. The Immigration Health Surcharge has been severely criticized for a large number of reasons. For a while now, MPs have been opposing the inclusion of the mandatory Immigration Health Surcharge as part of the International Student post-Brexit plan. Many have called it an unnecessary waste of time, energy, and money. Although the student will need to pay more than £1,000 with their visa application, none of the money will reach the NHS if they are eligible for a full refund. A student may also apply for a partial refund in case they do not meet all the criteria. Hence, although a student needs to pay a large sum of money when applying for their visa, this money, ultimately, does not end up what the NHS, and only results in generating more paperwork for the student and government officials. The surcharge is also not waived off for students who wish to obtain private healthcare insurance or visit private healthcare facilities for their needs.
Why is the Immigration Health Surcharge being opposed?
Although the students will need to pay a large amount upfront, they are eligible for a full refund after completing this course. While this sounds like a fair bargain, in practice, availing the refund may be complicated for students since the refund process will not begin before January 2022. Even then, the refund process may end up taking more than a year.
Additionally, the student needs to meet several criteria to be eligible for a refund. They will need to pursue a full-time course which lasts for more than six months. The student must hold a valid European Health Card issued by the EU. Additionally. Any student who works to sustain themselves, either employed or self-employed, is not eligible for a refund during their course. To receive their refund, the student also needs to be present in the UK and prove that they meet all refund initiation criteria.
Government officials have heavily criticized the NHS Surcharge, stating that international students paying for healthcare only to get a refund a few years later can end up becoming a “red tape nightmare.” Officials believe that it is not only taking for the student but also a waste of government resources. Not only does the fund never reach the NHS, but students also have to clear various hurdles to be able to get the refund which they deserve.
The higher education sector also strongly opposes the implementation of the Immigration Surcharge. When this surcharge is added to the Visa application’s cost, the total costs end up being quite expensive. The cost is estimated to be about five times more than other comparable countries. Hence, it can be a deterrent for students. Causing them to select different options. According to the National Union of Students’ vice president, the government should recognize the immense benefits that International students bestow on their country. Overall, the Higher Education sector has been lobbying for a long time for the government to reduce visa application costs. With the costs of a visa application being so high, many worry that students are being driven away, which is detrimental to Britain’s Higher Education Sector. To improve the higher education sector and truly explore the benefits that international students provide, there needs to be a solution to the UK’s high costs of visa application.
What is the Response?
While it took a while for the government to respond, it has not been very promising. A spokesperson commented that waiving off the surcharge for EU students will go beyond the agreed-upon terms under the Trade and Cooperation Act, which was agreed upon during Brexit. Government officials also expanded upon which students would be eligible for a refund and which ones would be denied. Even if someone is eligible for a refund, the process is long drawn and exhaustive, and more importantly, requires the candidate to be present in the UK, even if the refund takes more than a year to process.
Overall, the government has not declared any plans to listen to the masses and scrap the Immigration Health Surcharge. Whether or not this proves to be genuinely detrimental to Britain’s Higher Education Sector is yet to be determined. However, many believe this surcharge is a significant inconvenience, as there are hardly any exemption points. The surcharge is levied on all international students, adding to their difficulty accessing education in the UK.