UK Home Office retreats on £38,000 family visa salary threshold

Earning threshold to bring foreign family members to Britain will instead be increased incrementally to 'give predictability'

Border Force officers check the passports of passengers arriving at Gatwick Airport  in London, England. Getty Images
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The UK government has retreated on plans to raise the earnings threshold Britons need to bring foreign family members to live in the UK to £38,700 ($49,075).

Ministers have now announced plans to increase the threshold to £29,000 in the spring.

Previously a person looking to bring loved ones to the UK needed to earn £18,600, but Home Secretary James Cleverly increased this to £38,700 as part of a package of measures to curb legal migration.

But the move attracted criticism as it threatened to tear apart families, with many having their future thrown into doubt as the government considered the details of the policy.

Home Office minister Lord Andrew Sharpe confirmed the change of plans in answer to a written parliamentary question on Thursday.

Mr Sharpe said that the current threshold of £18,600 allows 75 per cent of the UK working population to bring their foreign family members into the country to live.

He said that increasing the threshold to £38,700 would limit the same right to 30 per cent of the working population.

Mr Sharpe said that in the spring of 2024, the threshold would be increased to £29,000, then later £34,500, then £38,700.

The minister said increasing the threshold incrementally would “give predictability”.

But he gave no date for when the threshold would rise beyond £29,000, neither did one appear in Home Office papers published on Thursday detailing the plans.

The Prime Minister previously told MPs that the government was looking at “transitional arrangements” for changes to the thresholds to make sure they are fair.

In a fact sheet detailing its plans, the Home Office confirmed that changes to the family visa scheme would only apply to new applicants.

Anyone granted a fiancee visa before the minimum income threshold is raised will also be assessed against the £18,600 requirement when they apply for a family visa, rather than the new threshold.

Mr Cleverly suggested the plans would still reduce net legal migration by 300,000 people a year.

“Today, I have provided further detail about how these measures will be applied and when they will be introduced," he said.

“This plan will deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration, with around 300,000 fewer people coming to the UK compared to last year, delivering on our promise to bring the numbers down.”

Home Office minister Tom Pursglove is expected to write to MPs on Friday to explain the government’s plans.

The Liberal Democrats said the planned £38,700 threshold had always been “unworkable”.

“This was yet another half-thought through idea to placate the hardliners on their own back benches," said the party’s home affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael.

“James Cleverly needs to put down the spade and stop digging. Decisions like this should be made by experts and politicians working together.

“He should also publish the advice from the Treasury and OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) about the impact that his package of changes will have on the economy.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the change was “more evidence of Tory government chaos on immigration and the economy”.

“On their watch, net migration has trebled as skills shortages have got worse and worse – and they still have no proper plan to link the immigration system to training or workforce planning," Ms Cooper said.

“They failed to consult anyone on their new proposals and took no account of the impact of steep spousal visa changes on families next year, so it’s no surprise they are now rowing back in a rush.”

Updated: December 22, 2023, 6:58 AM