In 2015, the government introduced a healthcare surcharge for non-EU citizens applying to study or migrate to the United Kingdom. The initial cost of the surcharge for students was £150 but since the turn of 2019, it has now doubled and will now cost international non-EU students £300 per year of study.
The Immigration Healthcare Surcharge, IHS, was introduced with the intention to fund healthcare of the NHS, which would mean that international, non-EU individuals would have full access to use these services like any other UK citizen receiving healthcare with the NHS. The £300 per year is paid during the Tier-4-visa application process and there is no way one could apply without paying the compulsory fee per year of study. To put things into perspective, this means that an international student would have to pay a minimum of £1,248 if opting for the standard visa time. This is a 62 percent increase from the £772 they would have been required to pay for the same visa last year.
The Minister of State for Immigration, Caroline Nokes, tried justifying the need for this with a written statement on 11 October 2018 when there was the proposal to increase the surcharge. Her main argument was how the NHS has always been paid for by British taxpayers and even though they welcome long-term migrants, it would only be fair if they (migrants) also made a fair contribution for the use of NHS. The decision to double the healthcare surcharge came after a report showed that the annual average usage of NHS costs about £470 thus the decision to increase it to £400 and £300 for long-term migrants and students respectively.
The surcharge is a tricky situation. On one hand, the government can rationalise that it is fair for migrants to also play a part in the NHS charges but also their entire premise of ‘health tourists’ costing them a lot of money and using it to justify the IHS is contradictory. Health tourists are people who solely come into the country for the use of the NHS and getting healthcare. The cost of these, according to The Mirror, add up to no more than £300m. That and the £2bn which visitors and migrants cost the NHS every year, is still less than 2.5 percent of the NHS’s total £91.5bn expenditure. The NHS spends £200m more on stationery than on ‘health tourism’. It then seems harsh and unfair for international students to pay the extra charge to access a basic human right of healthcare.
With Brexit inevitably looming on the horizon, this raises a few questions. Will EU migrants and students be subject to the same IHS as non-EU migrants because a different treatment may raise some eyebrows of fairness? After questioning a few international students on campus about whether this could have deterred them from coming to UEA had the increase been sooner, they had mixed feelings. Some said that it would have been more expensive so they wouldn’t have opted for a different country of study, while the majority say they would’ve paid the fees anyway because the £300 was only a small fraction of what they spend during only one semester in university.
The feeling was different for EU students who said that this might have an effect on them coming to the UK for studying as they fear the difficulty of them entering the UK after Brexit and if the IHS fees are imposed on them, then this might be a deciding factor in which direction the pendulum will swing for them.