Home Secretary Priti Patel is considering scrapping a concession on UK visa fees for citizens of 26 European countries.
Under the terms of the 1961 European Social Charter, an automatic £55 reduction is offered to those seeking UK work visas from signatory nations.
This includes 22 of the EU’s 27 member states, as well as Iceland, North Macedonia, Norway and Turkey.
Ms Patel is now looking at whether to withdraw from that part of the European Social Charter that obliges the UK to offer cheaper visa fees, as first reported by The Times.
Article 18 of the charter requires signatories to “simplify existing formalities and to reduce or abolish chancery dues and other charges payable by foreign workers or their employers”.
A Whitehall source told Sky News the concession was being reviewed as part of a drive to make the UK’s post-Brexit immigration scheme “as fair as possible for everyone” and to “level the playing field” for applicants from all across the world.
The £55 discount on application fees is offered on a range of long-term and short-term UK visas, including skilled worker visas, health and care worker visas, charity worker visas, creative and sporting visas, religious worker visas, and seasonal worker visas.
For example, someone applying for a seasonal worker visa from one of the 26 signatory countries will see their visa application fee reduced from £244 to £189.
The government introduced a new health and care worker visa after the UK’s departure from the EU, which costs between £232 to £464 without the discount.
The Home Office said this is at least 50% less than other skilled workers, while more than 10,000 health and care visas have so far been extended free of charge during the COVID-19 crisis.
The government has also exempted NHS workers from the immigration health surcharge – a fee of up to £624 per year levied on the majority of UK visa applications.
But Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds accused the government of planning a “stealth tax” on foreign health and care workers over the possible scrapping of visa discounts for the citizens of 26 European countries.
He said: “What does the home secretary have against NHS and care workers?
“Conservative plans to slap a stealth tax on frontline heroes, who have risked their own health to keep us safe through this pandemic, is shameful.
“The prime minister made a personal promise to remove the immigration health surcharge for overseas workers.
“Now, what he gave with one hand, he seeks to take away with the other.”
The UK is a signatory of the European Social Charter through its membership of the Council of Europe, which predated the UK’s membership of the EU.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “All visa fees are kept under review.
“Now free movement has ended our ambition is to ensure consistency and fairness across the immigration system, including across EU Member states.
“Health and care workers are offered significantly lower fees under the new health and care visa.”