Retreat on migrant income threshold 'will lead to visa scramble'

Home Office reduces the increase in earnings needed to bring family members to UK by £10,000

Passengers arriving at Gatwick Airport. The British government's retreat has annoyed both right and left wing figures. Getty
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The British government’s climbdown over its increased earnings threshold for migrants will cause a massive “scramble” for visa applications, a former minister has told The National.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has retreated on plans to raise the salary needed for migrants to bring foreign family members to live in the UK to £38,700 ($49,075), by reducing it to £29,000.

The measure, an increase from the current level of £18,600, will also not come into effect until April when it had been expected to start in January.

“There is now going to be a scramble because the new regime will be applied to those who make their application after the April date,” said David Jones, a veteran backbencher who sits on the right wing of the Conservative Party.

“People will now be rushing to apply for their visas before the April deadline. I just think that the government should be far more robust about this.”

Mr Sunak, who already faces considerable hurdles getting his Rwanda deportation laws through in the new year, has still annoyed liberal Tories with the £10,000 hike and irritated the right wing by reducing the higher figure.

Home Secretary James Cleverly had announced the increase this month as part of a package of measures to curb legal migration, saying: “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.”

The government insists the reduction in net migration will still be achieved.

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

Mr Sharpe said 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. 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, without giving a precise date.

But Mr Jones, the former Welsh secretary, objected to the “considerably lower” amount now proposed.

“There could have been a far more focused way of dealing with this rather than simply dropping the threshold to a lower level,” he said.

“This should also have commenced in January with the £38,700 threshold maintained. People will be very disappointed at this volte-face.”

However, Dr Madeleine Sumption, of Oxford University’s Migration Observatory, told The National the figure meant some families would be forced to separate while a partner tries to earn the requisite salary.

“But sometimes people are unable to do that and they can be separated for very long periods of time,” she said.

Britain now had the highest salary requirement, she added. “I'm not aware of any other countries that have an income threshold even as high as £29,000. The US, for example, has a threshold of less than £20,000.”

The academic said that “some people will basically never be able to do it, so substantial numbers of people would still be affected, I’d say up to 30,000.

“Unlike a lot of immigration policies, this one affects British people because one of the key impacts is on British people, who can't bring their spouse to the UK if they marry someone from overseas and if they don’t have the right income.”

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 fiancée visa before the minimum income threshold is raised will also be assessed against the £18,600 requirement.

Updated: December 23, 2023, 4:46 AM