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UK To Increase Visa Fees, Health Charges For Migrants

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Rishi Sunak

The United Kingdom Thursday said it will ‘significantly’ increase visa fees and immigration health surcharge (IHS) to help fund pay increases in its public sector.

“First we are going to increase the charges that we have for migrants who are coming to this country when they apply for visas and indeed something called the immigration health surcharge which is the levy that they pay to access the NHS,” UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said at a press conference.

He said if the government is to prioritise paying public sector workers more, the money had to come from somewhere else because he is not prepared to increase people’s taxes and does not think it would be responsible or right to borrow more as it would only worsen inflation.

“All of those fees are going to go up and that will raise over a billion pounds. Across the board visa application fees are going to go up significantly and similarly for the immigration health surcharge for migrants who are coming to this country legally…,” Mr Sunak added.

He noted that it is the appropriate thing to do as neither of these fees has been increased in recent times even as general costs have continued to increase, adding that it is a significant contribution to helping the government pay public sector workers.

Public sector workers in the UK including teachers and health workers have recently embarked on strikes demanding a pay increase. Accepting the recommendation of the independent pay review body, the government has now agreed to a pay increase of between five and seven per cent.

This pay increase will be funded by foreigners coming to the UK through increased visa fees and health surcharges, the prime minister said.

The surcharge is currently £470 per year for students and those on Youth Mobility Scheme visas and £624 per year for all other visa and immigration applications. The same amount must be paid for any dependents.

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Putin Registers As Candidate For Russia’s Next Presidential Election

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Russia on Monday officially recognised Vladimir Putin as a candidate for the presidential elections in March, a vote that he is all but certain to win.

The 71-year-old has led Russia since the turn of the century, winning four presidential ballots and briefly serving as prime minister in a system where opposition has become virtually non-existent.

The Central Election Commission said it had registered Putin, who nominated himself, as well as right-wing firebrand and Putin-loyalist Leonid Slutsky as candidates for the vote.

The election will be held over a three-day period from March 15 to 17, a move that Kremlin critics have argued makes guaranteeing transparency more difficult.

Following a controversial constitutional reform in 2020, Putin could stay in power until at least 2036.

Rights groups say that previous elections have been marred by irregularities and that independent observers are likely to be barred from monitoring the vote.

While Putin is not expected to face any real competition, liberal challenger Boris Nadezhdin has passed the threshold of signatures to be registered as a candidate.

However, it is still unclear if he will be allowed to run, and the Kremlin has said it does not consider him to be a serious rival.

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Hong Kong court grants Chinese real estate giant reorganisation postponement

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Hong Kong’s Supreme Court has once again granted the highly indebted Chinese real estate giant Evergrande a postponement for its reorganisation plan.

Judge Linda Chan surprisingly postponed the decision until Jan. 29, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday.

The property developer, which has liabilities estimated at more than 300 billion dollars, is threatened with liquidation.

However, creditors from abroad had taken the company to court because of its missing several payments.

Chan had already said at the previous hearing that this would be the last postponement and that she would very likely agree to liquidation if China Evergrande did not find a plan for restructuring with its creditors.

According to reports, however, the lawyers of the Hong Kong-listed group had now held out the prospect of being able to reach an agreement with the lenders in the coming weeks.

In the case of liquidation, an insolvency administrator would monetise the company and pay out the creditors.

Meanwhile, some experts were of the opinion that liquidation would return less money to creditors than a reorganisation, China Evergrande argued the same in court, according to reports.

The group had been trying to submit a restructuring plan since 2022, without success. Its founder and once China’s richest man, Hui Ka Yan, is being investigated by the Chinese authorities.

Like many other property groups, the company had been in a serious crisis for some time because it is earning significantly less on the slumping property market.

The company is finding it more difficult to obtain state support and is no longer able to service its loans.

“The Evergrande case also shows that the era of large private property developers in China is coming to an end,’’ says Max Zenglein from the Merics China Institute in Berlin.

If Chan decides to wind up China Evergrande, this could also have an impact on other companies.

“One challenge for the government will be to prevent domino effects in the economy caused by major bankruptcies,’’ says Zenglein.

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