From today people making enquires to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), which is part of the Home Office, will be required to pay £5.48 per email.

The reason for this is that all customer enquiries are now being handled by a new commercial partner, Sitel UK. Previously individuals were not required to pay. This move has stunned many people.

This is not the only change to occur in relation to UKVI. All phone numbers and opening hours are to also change as well as the number of languages reduced from 20 to 8. These services will be English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, French, Hindi, Russian and Spanish

However there will be no change for individuals who are contacting UKVI from inside the UK.

The reason provided by UKVI for this change is to ‘help the government reduce costs and ensure those who benefit directly from the UK immigration system make an appropriate contribution’.

Under the new rules, payment can be made using a debit or credit card and messages will have to be sent through a chat-room style website that can only be accessed once the fee has been paid. The fee will only cover the first message and the follow up messages on the same subject.

At present the cost of a UK visa varies from £89 for a 6-month standard visitor visa to £3,250 to settle a dependent relative.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show there were 2,978,018 applications for visas in the year up to March 2017, including tourists, workers, students and family members.

Arif Khalfe, a Director in the Immigration Department, says that the move is likely to affect the UK tourism industry at the start of the summer season. The tourism industry was estimated to be worth £126.9bn in 2013 and provided 9.6% of the total jobs, with holidaymakers preferring to choose destinations where it is easier to get a visa.

Arif points out that the additional fees being charged are unreasonable when considering the amount of money that is being charged by the UKVI for submitting a visa. He believes that applicants applying for a Visa are more likely to make mistakes due to applicants not wishing to pay the charge which will only lead to increase work upon the case workers who are stretched as it is. As a result of the mistakes, the application is likely to be rejected which would result in the applicant being substantially out of pocket. To avoid pitfalls, Arif recommends that applicants use an immigration advisor to assist them with their applications.

For further information relating to the points raised in this article, please contact Arif Khalfe.

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.

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