In July last year, the government announced a 66% increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), raising the main charge from £624 per year to £1035 per year for most adult applicants. This is a huge increase, and will undoubtedly cause concern for many individuals who are hoping to apply for a UK visa.

The draft Immigration (Health Charge) (Amendment) Order 2024 was initially published in October, and the increase was due to take place from 16th January 2024. However, the order was subsequently debated in the House of Commons on the 10th January, before being eventually approved by Parliament on the 16th January. In accordance with Parliamentary convention, the Order is to come into force 21 days after approval, meaning the new date for the increase is now the 6th February 2024.

From the 6th February, the IHS rate for most adults will be £1035 per year, up from £624 per year. For children, students and Youth Mobility Scheme applicants, the IHS is increasing from £470 to £776 per year.  

This change will affect any eligible applications made from the 6th February onwards, including application for extensions made from within the UK. It is therefore important that individuals are clear on when they can submit an application, and consider whether it’s possible for an application to be submitted before the increase takes effect. Submitting an application before the 6th February could potentially save you thousands of pounds, so understanding the rules on eligibility could be crucial for many people.

The IHS hike comes just a few months after an increase in application fees for many different visas, which saw visa application fees for family, settlement and citizenship applications increase by 20%.

Changes to the minimum salary requirement for Appendix FM

In addition to the IHS and application fee increases, the government also announced an increase in salary requirements, affecting skilled worker visas and family visas. The key change being considered here is for family visas submitted under Appendix FM. The minimum salary requirement is currently set at £18,600 per year, which has been in place since it was first introduced in July 2012.

In what came as quite a shock, on the 4th December the Home Secretary announced that the minimum salary requirement for partner visas made under Appendix FM would increase to £38,700 per year. Not only is this a huge increase in and of itself, but it would also place the minimum required salary well-above the UK average.

As with the IHS increase, this massive change to one of the key requirements for family visas caused a great deal of anxiety and stress for a lot of people. The initial announcement was short on some key information too, so a lot of questions were raised. We do now have some more clarity on how this change will work for existing visa holders, as well as a change in how the new requirement will be introduced.

Firstly, the government have confirmed that anybody already holding an eligible visa will not be required to meet the higher income threshold in any subsequent extension applications. Therefore, any new applications submitted before the increase will be considered against the existing requirement for the duration of their visa journey. This includes anybody who applied for a fiancé visa before the increase, and switches to a spouse visa following their marriage; that spouse visa application will be considered against the lower income requirement.

Furthermore, the higher income threshold of £38,700 will not come into force straight away. Instead, the income requirement will be incrementally increased. Initially, this will increase to £29,000 per year from Spring 2024, before increasing again later this year, with the final £38,700 income requirement planned to come into force by Spring 2025.

Whilst this does still create some uncertainty, we do at least know that the income requirement is increasing in Spring 2024 to £29,000. Although not quite as drastic as initially announced, it does still represent an increase of over £10,000 more per year in earnings. This initial increase will likely impact thousands of couples looking to make an entry clearance application later this year.

Under the new rules, there will be no separate or enhanced salary requirement for additional dependents. This is a positive change, albeit in the context of a big increase, and brings the rules for dependents in Appendix FM more in line with the rules for dependents in other categories, such as Skilled Workers.

Exceptional Circumstances

There are provisions within the rules to allow for application to be submitted under Exceptional Circumstances, where they don’t meet certain requirements. This includes entry clearance applications where the sponsor does not meet the income requirement, and the application does not otherwise satisfy the financial requirement (for example, with cash savings).

The rules state that, where certain requirements aren’t met in an application, the application may still be granted if refusal of the application would result in ‘unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant, their partner or a relevant child’.

This is a very high threshold to meet, and each case will be considered on its own merits.

With so many different rules changes coming into force at different times, often with limited or lacking details from the government, it is important to be fully informed before making an application. With the high costs involved, this is especially important since the Home Office will not refund application fees where there has been a refusal.

If you are affected by any of the matters in this article, and you would like some advice and assistance with preparing an application, please contact Wilson Solicitors by calling our main switchboard on 0208 808 7535, or by completing our online contact form here.

If you would like to instruct Felicity to help you with a family law case, please contact family department secretary, Mavis, for an appointment on 0202 8885 7986.

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