Buried deep beneath the murky underwater of the issue of migration in the UK is a more troubling trend in the cost of justice in the UK. Filing a visa application is hard enough without having to worry about the cost of funding an an appeal if the visa is refused. It appears that “freedom” and “liberty” have a price.
Migration brings an approximate net wealth of about £2billion a year to the UK, so despite some claims to the contrary, it is not a drain on the economy or the public purse. Brexit might well have provided some hope for people who want a more EU-red-tape-free society, but the cost is an entirely different matter. Some of the migration rules that apply to non-EU or non-EEA countries could start affecting EU migration. In fact, this is what people are almost calling for without fully considering the social cost.
Financial, not Fair
So when does “migration control” start to step outside the realms of reasonable? People keep romanticising about an “Australian style system” – often without any real understanding of what that means. But the current UK system is leaning closely towards the area of: “if you can afford it, you can come here.” Ironic, since we have so many millions in this country who have never contributed a penny but see fit to drain everything they can from the state under some kind of “entitlement” assumption.
Here’s the rub. The Home Office make it inordinately difficult to submit applications for UK Visas. Inevitably, many of them fail unless the applicant chooses to get proper legal representation (which can cost a lot of money). Even without legal representation, applications often cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds. Understandably, thinking that they submitted everything correctly, numerous applicants then attempt the appeal route assuming that it is the Home Office (or UKVI) that has made an error.
However, an appeal cost has risen by 500% – now a substantial £800 just to appeal, and that is if they can appeal. This is on top of the application fee having already been lost. The appeal takes months – sometimes six, twelve or even more – and they are rarely successful unless you really do know what you are doing with immigration law. Most people don’t: that is why they are appealing. But a lot of people applying cannot also afford legal costs, so it becomes a vicious circle.
Is it all about the money?
Let’s look at another area of the British Justice system that is becoming increasingly defined by cost. Serious criminal cases in the UK now get woefully inadequate legal aid (for UK residents, of course) in serious cases. In sexual crimes – the comparison will be clear later – a defendant who needs to use legal aid will often get only £7,000 – £10,000 for their entire case. A full defence with a private solicitor and a good barrister would normally cost around £50,000. Clearly the difference between the amounts (around 500%) hugely disadvantages anyone who needs legal aid. It doesn’t matter who they are, how innocent they are, or what the alleged offences were: if they can’t afford a good defence, they can’t have one.
A solicitor working on legal aid will not be as available for advice, contact or advice as a privately paid solicitor. Worse still, there are now very few solicitors who even take legal aid cases on because they can’t afford to fund them in their legal firms.
Therefore, if you face a serious allegation the strength of your defence will be heavily defined by what you can afford. So justice has a price on it.
Comparing the numbers – is there a pattern?
So we now know that there has been a massive increase in the fee to appeal a failed immigration application. At the same time, the Government announced the idea of raising the basic salary requirement from £20,800 to £35,000. The result of this will be that people could be refused visas or even sent back to their home country based solely on a financial income. This includes, for example, a skilled American Flautist who excels in music, teaches others, is an asset to her local community, but only earns £17,000. In fact, one can assume that a rich variety of workers in the arts could face the same fate.
But when it comes to curtailing civil liberty, the Government are more than happy to fund that. Michael Gove made a claim for £400m or so to cover the extra costs incurred as a result of a sudden rise in sex crime reports over the past two years. They would be the same cases that would be very difficult to defend on a meagre legal aid rate, even if you qualified for it.
So it seems that the UK is now pricing people out of the country in a way that serves only the wealthy. If you can afford to pay for visa applications but fail, appeals are now the reserve of those who have a “spare” £800. 4 and get a job of £35,000 you can stay. Imagine applying that rule to absolutely everyone in the country: everyone except those who find themselves in prison simply because they couldn’t afford a good defence, of course.
The Government seems to be slowly turning into a bully who kicks people when they are down – or indeed, down and out. The unease in the UK has been felt ever since the austerity cuts really started highlighting inequalities in all areas of society. However, when there is a growing pattern of increased charges, substantial changes in eligibility criteria, and significant drops in money available to protect defendants…
…one has to wonder if the UK is as “fair” a place to live as it was before.