Income required to bring in foreign spouses reduced to £29,000 from £38,700
The United Kingdom scaled back plans for a steep increase in the minimum income needed to bring a foreign spouse into the country following protests over the policy announced earlier this month.
The threshold will now climb to £29,000 by next spring from £18,600, instead of the £38,700 announced December 4, according to a Home Office document posted on its website. The government said this would be an initial increase without indicating when it would make the full change and estimated that about 10,000 to 30,000 people will no longer qualify for the visa.
The government’s climbdown follows criticism of the policy that it would split families and force foreigners to leave the U.K. An organisation which campaigns on behalf of families affected by immigration rules, has instructed lawyers to challenge the changes, according to the The Times.
Experts from the Migration Advisory Committee said the change threatened to throw wedding plans into disarray because many U.K. residents intending to marry foreigners would no longer meet the minimum salary threshold needed to bring their spouses here, The Times said.
At the current minimum income requirement level of £18,600, 75 percent to 80 percent of U.K.’s working population would qualify for the visa based on the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, the government said. That ratio would drop to around 50 percent to 60 percent at an income level of £29,000, it said.
This estimate was based on earnings alone before considering savings and other non-work income, the government said. It also does not include those who seek recourse to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights that enshrines the right to family life, under which several hundred claims are made every year.
There were 82,395 family-related visas granted in the year ending September 2023, according to the statement. Of these 65,278 or 79 percent were granted to partners, 13 percent to children and 8 percent to the ‘Other’ category.
The planned amendments to the family visa rule were part of a several changes announced by Home Secretary James Cleverly on December 4 to cut net annual migration by 300,000 or 40 percent.
Other changes included scrapping dependant visas for care workers, restricting sponsorship of care workers to organisations undertaking activities regulated by the Care Quality Commission, as well as an increase in the threshold salary for foreign workers to £38,700 from £26,200.
Earlier this year, the government also said that foreign students not involved in research would not be allowed to bring in dependants from January 1, 2024, while the immigration health surcharge that helps pay for the free National Health Service will rise to £1,035 from £624 from January 16.
The government was pushed to announce the measures after net migration to the U.K. hit a record 745,000 in 2022, about three times the annual average before the pandemic. Curbing the inflow of foreigners was a key election plank of the Conservative Party.
As a result of the changes, about 120,000 fewer visas would be issued to care workers while the Care Quality Commission restriction would result in a drop of another 20,000 visas, the government estimated. Restrictions on student immigration will result in a decline of 140,000 visas and changes to the Skilled Worker visa rules, a drop of 15,000.
The government also said it will set out transitional arrangements, in due course, for people issued Skilled Worker visas before the salary changes announced on December 4 come into force.
The changes, however, threaten to strain the country’s care and hospitality sectors.
London mayor Sadiq Khan was quoted as saying that plans to cut legal migration will lead to a full-blown recruitment crisis in London, with vacancies in hospitality alone still higher than they were pre-pandemic.
Analysis by the Greater London Authority found that key sectors of the London economy worth billions to the exchequer could be left heavily understaffed. Of the 1 million people working in hospitality, healthcare, arts and construction in the capital, about 46 percent are non-U.K. nationals, according to the assessment.
All of them will face higher health fees unless they have secured indefinite leave to remain and many non-nationals earn far less than the revised skilled worker threshold of £38,700 and risk losing the right to remain in the U.K.
Nursing officials also said that the changes would endanger health and social care services and worsen the workforce crisis at the NHS and the social care sectors.
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, was quoted as saying that it was vital that overseas health and care staff continue to view the U.K. as a viable place to work and live. With over 120,000 staff shortages in the NHS and over 150,000 in social care, measures that deter people from joining these professions are deeply concerning, she was quoted as saying.
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