Theresa May's plan to dramatically increase visa fees to plug a £50 million gap in the Home Office's budget has been branded "unacceptable" by business groups.
Dr Adam Marshall, executive director of policy from the British Chambers of Commerce, told HuffPostUK: "Piling additional costs on the business community is an unacceptable way to plug a hole in the Home Office budget."
“Both exports and inward investment depend on simple and cost-effective access to visas. Higher costs will deter business visitors, and could result in cancelled or delayed business deals.
“This is exactly the wrong signal to send to the business community when we are focusing all our efforts on getting into new markets across the globe. If the Home Office has a budget gap, it should look to trim its own expenses before adding further to the already-high cost of doing business here in the UK.”
The proposal, put forward in documents leaked to the Times, suggests that an inflation-busting 4% hike in visa fees is among the least worst options to fill a £50 million Home Office budget gap. This will hit groups like overseas students, who currently pay at least £80 when applying for a six-month visa to the UK.
The visa fee hike likely to be seen as a warning to chancellor George Osborne not to cut the Home Office's budget further when he delivers his Budget statement next month, having already "top sliced" the department last autumn.
Theresa May was forced by the Prime Minister to scrap plans to impose bonds of up to £3,000 on visitors deemed to pose a risk of overstaying their stay in the UK, which was branded "highly discriminatory" by Indian business leaders and jeopardized David Cameron's message of boosting British trade.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Visa fees are increasing because we are reducing the cost of the immigration system to the taxpayer. Immigrants and visitors should contribute their fair share to the system.”
“The Home Office — like the Government overall — is performing well in cutting spending while protecting and improving services.”