Potential earnings increase could impact on UK marriage visas

Published: 16/11/2011

A government watchdog is keen to highlight the benefit of doubling the amount British Citizens and lawful permanent residents with no restrictions on their stay must earn in order to bring their foreign partners in to the UK. Government immigration advisors believe that by increasing the current requirement up to £26,000 per annum, up to two thirds of immigrant brides, grooms, spouses and partners would no longer be eligible to come to the UK on a settlement visa.

The controversial issue of immigrants and their partners and families being a ‘burden on the state’ is certainly a vote winner, particularly in light of the cuts which are being felt up and down the country, so it is no surprise that the increase in earnings required to be allowed to bring a foreign partner, fiance(e) or spouse in to the UK on a settlement visa is under consideration.

Currently set at around £13,700, the proven salary required to bring a foreign spouse to the UK is no longer believed to be enough to support two adults without ‘recourse to public funds’ – an important clause in the marriage visa application process. The UK government asked their immigration advisors to assess the level of income required to support a British citizen and their foreign partner without taking any benefits and the lowest figure in the proposed range was £18,600, which is still significantly higher than the current figure, with the highest – £25,700 – illustrative of what is considered a typical one-working-adult household in the UK. The lower figure was reached as this is the level at which many ‘standard’ benefits such as housing benefits and tax credits are withdrawn, thus representing ‘no recourse to public funds’.

With around 40,000 foreign spouses brought in to the UK on a marriage visa by their British citizen and permanent resident partners in 2010 alone, the new earnings proposals are likely to reduce that figure by up to 63 per cent – a sure vote winner in these economically straightened times but a potential problem for those people wishing to bring their foreign spouse in to the UK on a marriage visa.

While Professor Metcalf, chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee seems supportive of the increase in general, stating the current earnings requirement as ‘a bit low’, he is concerned that they may contravene a ‘person’s right to a family life’ in accordance with European Human Rights legislation. He said, “We have to abide by the terms of reference that we are set up for, and that’s to answer the questions which the government sets us, and not to go off on a track of our own. It’s for others to then decide whether in some senses that question is a bit wrong, if it’s too economic-focused, or quite possibly we’ve not addressed it properly.”

The Institute for Policy Research also highlighted its issue with the proposal, explaining that the earnings increase would effectively mean that around half of the UK population would no longer be able to bring a foreign spouse to the UK on a marriage or partner visa. But Matt Cavanagh from the Institute added, “It isn’t unreasonable – particularly in the current economic climate – to ask whether, if someone is destitute or entirely dependant on benefits, they should be allowed to bring in a spouse or partner who is likely to end up in a similar situation.”

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