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The implications of the changes to the minimum income requirement for partner visas

Written by RMC Immigration Department Manager, Danai Papachristopoulou

After months of deliberation, the minimum income requirement that spouses of British and settled people need in order to enter or stay in the UK, is increasing today. On the 4th of December 2023, the Home Secretary announced a five-point plan to ‘deliver the biggest ever cut in net migration and curb abuse of the immigration system.’

One of the points was the announcement of the increase of the minimum income for family visas from £18,600 to £38,700. After strong backlash, it was decided that this increase will be incremental. The threshold will first be raised from £18,600 to £29,000 moving to £34,500 and finally to £38,700 by early 2025.

The financial requirement

Since the introduction of the current rules on spouse visas in July 2012, the minimum income requirement that British Citizens and settled people wanting to sponsor their partners to join them in the UK was £18,600 annual gross income plus an additional amount of £3,800 for one child and £2,400 for any additional children they are sponsoring.

Additional to the financial requirement, the applicants need to meet a series of other requirements and gathering the necessary evidence can be an arduous task.

The cost of these applications

Some weeks before the discussion on the increase of the minimum income requirement started, the government had decided on a 20% increase on most immigration applications, while also announcing that the Immigration Health Surcharge would increase by 66% in February 2024. Further increases in fees were passed on 20th March 2024, including a 20% increase on application fees for partners extending their permission to say.

An example:

Before the fee increases, a British Citizen wishing to sponsor their partner to join them in the UK would have had to pay a total of £3,410 (includes the application fee and immigration health surcharge).

After the increases of the past few months, they will now have to pay £4,951 for permission to enter valid for 33 months and which must be extended at an additional cost.

It is worth noting that these applications are outside the scope of legal aid which results in sponsors and applicants having to pay additional legal fees on top of application fees to ensure the application and supporting evidence are submitted correctly and avoid refusals.

A comment on the government’s position

The Government published a Factsheet in an attempt to address some of the questions raised as part of reactions to the announcement.

When explaining the significant increase, albeit incremental, the factsheet states ‘[t]he Minimum Income Requirement has not been increased for over a decade and no longer reflects the level of income required by a family to ensure they are self-sufficient and do not need to rely on public funds’.

The proposed Minimum Income Requirement will, in less than a year, be almost double of the national living wage and over the median gross annual earnings for full-time employees, which is currently at £34,963. As included in a very useful analysis by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, 50% of UK employees earn less than the £29,000 threshold, and 70% earn less than £38,700.

The second point the factsheet attempted to address was whether the proposed changes will result in families splitting up. The response given was ‘the family Immigration Rules contain a provision for exceptional circumstances where there would be unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant, their partner, a relevant child, or another family member if their application were to be refused’

Unjustifiably harsh consequences

It is worth noting that the threshold of what would constitute ‘unjustifiably harsh consequences’ is quite high, as stated also in the relevant Home Office policy (p.61-70) which confirms that when the requirements are met something ‘very compelling’ is required to outweigh the public interest in refusal. They are exceptional circumstances because they are meant to be applied sparingly and in exceptional cases. The suggestion that these provisions will ensure that families are not separated is not based in the Home Office’s current policy.

It is likely that the majority of cases that do not meet the proposed financial requirement will not meet this high test. In these cases, the sponsors will have to make the difficult decision of whether they can/want to move to another country to ensure that their family is not separated.

It is worth noting, that even in cases where the exceptional circumstances are met, applicants are placed on a 10-year-route to settlement, doubling the amount of time they need to keep renewing their permission to stay before they can be settled.

Meeting the minimum income requirement

A final point in need of scrutiny in the factsheet is that the minimum income requirement can be met in various ways, specifically with savings, either in addition to a lower income or used exclusively.

Due to a complex calculation in relation to the use of savings to meet the financial requirement, a sponsor wishing to rely exclusively on savings to meet the new minimum income requirement will need to have £88,500 in savings.

It is evident from the above that these are not ways for the majority of sponsors to meet the financial requirements.

After the increase in application fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge which have resulted in an application for an entry clearance costing almost £5,000, the government is putting further obstacles to the right of British Citizens to live in the UK with their family members. While those applying to extend permission as a partner already granted will not be affected by the changes (at least for now), it is expected that these changes will lead to prolonged separation of families and longer routes to settlement.

After the efforts in ‘tackling illegal migration’ the government has now moved to also tackle legal migration, restricting the rights to family life only to those few that the government decides can afford it.

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