Home » The UK Government Revises Spousal Visa Salary Threshold Following Public Criticism

The UK Government Revises Spousal Visa Salary Threshold Following Public Criticism

When the UK government outlined its strategy to reduce net migration, which had reached a historic high of 745,000 the previous year, it likely did not anticipate being accused of implementing a “tax on love.” The decision to more than double the salary required for a British citizen to bring a spouse into the country has garnered criticism.

This change, part of a broader plan to decrease net migration to 300,000, has stirred reactions from an academic cautioning about choosing partners wisely to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing concerns about its negative impact on families.

The minimum income for a UK citizen to apply for their overseas spouse to join them has surged from £18,600 to £38,700 ($23,295 to $48,468), surpassing the average UK salary of approximately £29,000.

Home Secretary James Cleverly announced these measures, which also include restrictions on care-home workers bringing dependents to the UK and a substantial increase in the minimum salary requirement for skilled workers from overseas (excluding health and social care workers). The annual immigration health surcharge will rise by 66%, reaching £1,035 to generate around £1.3 billion annually for UK health services.

While concerns have been raised about potential repercussions on the care system, the decision to elevate the family income threshold has sparked surprise and shock among experts.

‘We’re Not a Burden’

Spousal Visa

Omnia’s husband, a banker in Egypt, appears, on paper, to be the kind of individual the UK would welcome. However, the current reality is that the family can only communicate through video calls, pending the outcome of their visa application that would allow him to join them in the UK.

As a 33-year-old PhD student at a UK university and a British citizen, Omnia finds the application process stressful and expensive, with £4,000 already spent in fees and no assurance of success. Meeting the existing income threshold on Omnia’s student income has been challenging, and she is apprehensive about the future reapplication process.

“I’m not sure if we’re going to get the visa,” says the 33-year-old, who prefers not to reveal her real name. “It’s already stressful before they brought in the increase. To earn that kind of money, the £38,000 minimum, that is not going to be easy.”

Separated from her husband in the meantime, Omnia emphasizes that individuals obtaining the spouse visa are ineligible for public funds. She believes her husband, an accomplished entrepreneur, would contribute positively to the UK.

“Whoever gets the spouse visa isn’t eligible for public funds anyway, so he can’t stay at home chilling out,” she notes. “He’s an entrepreneur and good at what he does, so I think he would do a great job here.”

Taking care of her son is challenging, and the young boy naturally misses his father. Despite daily communication and playtime, the separation is taking a toll on the family.

Challenging and Costly

The recent announcement of changes to the UK’s migration policy, particularly regarding spouse visas, has been met with concerns over its impact, both economically and socially. Alan Manning, an expert from the London School of Economics, expressed shock over the decision, characterizing the country’s migration policy as exhibiting “wild swings from boom to bust.”

The newly introduced rules are expected to render the majority of workers ineligible to bring foreign spouses to Britain, marking a significant shift. However, Manning notes that this change might not substantially affect overall net migration statistics. Family visas issued to partners in the year leading up to September 2023 amounted to 65,000, a relatively small number compared to 335,000 work visas and 486,000 study visas.

Manning, an economist with expertise in immigration and labor markets, points out that industries and educational institutions have influential advocates arguing for the admission of migrants for work or study. However, there are no comparable advocacy groups for families, leading to the implementation of restrictive policies that disproportionately affect individual families, even if the overall numbers impacted are relatively low.

He highlights that while extended families can combine resources to meet eligibility criteria, the policy change will likely have a severe impact on some families. Manning concludes with a cautionary note: “Be very careful who you fall in love with,” emphasizing the potential challenges and consequences brought about by the stringent spouse visa rules.

Adverse Consequences

UK Marriage Visas

The Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed concern over the potential negative repercussions of the UK government’s new rules, emphasizing their impact on family and marriage visas and relationships. While acknowledging the government’s legitimate interest in reducing legal migration figures, the archbishop cautioned that these rules might hinder the flourishing of love bonds within families and households.

During a House of Lords debate on “Love Matters,” he questioned whether the measures support and strengthen relationships or impose a cost on married and family life.

Highlighting the interconnectedness of the state and family, the archbishop stressed that strong families are essential for a robust society. His remarks were part of the annual debate he leads in the House of Lords, focusing this year on the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households report.

Dr. Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, echoed concerns about the decision to raise the family income threshold, identifying it as a component with potentially significant consequences for individuals. While family migration constitutes a small portion of the total, those affected can experience substantial impacts.

Lower-income British citizens, particularly women and younger individuals earning lower wages, are expected to bear the brunt of these changes. The income threshold’s effects will also be more pronounced in regions outside London and the South-East, where earnings tend to be lower.

Love Taxation

Love Taxation

Seb Wallace, a member of the Tory Reform Group within the Conservative Party, known for his liberal stance, and a venture capitalist, has shared the challenges his Colombian lawyer wife faced while trying to settle in the UK with him. Advocating for the elimination of the entire spouse visa system, he views the new requirements as a “tax on love.”

In his words, “A citizen should not be hindered from residing with their romantic partner based on a financial threshold, especially one well above the UK average salary. This change is unjust for the young and the economically disadvantaged.

Even before this modification, there was no access to public funds under this visa route, questioning the intended social or financial benefit beyond political posturing. It creates a social injustice without tangible state benefits.”

Gavin Barwell, former chief of staff to Theresa May, criticized the move as morally wrong, emphasizing that only the wealthiest should not be entitled to love and marriage. On the other side, MP Neil O’Brien, formerly a government minister, defended the £38,700 threshold, considering it fair given the median income for a childless couple.

Despite the criticisms, the Home Office assured that new policies wouldn’t be applied retrospectively. It clarified that until the immigration rules are amended, the minimum income requirement will remain unchanged. The Home Office is currently finalizing the policy specifics, including its application to visa renewals, promising more details in due course.

For those contemplating love across borders, careful consideration of visa rules might be prudent before advancing the relationship further, especially when considering legal matters like entitlement to military pensions in the event of divorce.