Couples ‘devastated’ by migration visa rule changes

Couples planning a new life in the UK have been left heartbroken by changes restricting who can apply to live here.

From April 2024, British citizens or people already settled in the UK will need to show they earn £38,700 before their overseas partner can live here with them – a sharp jump from the current threshold of £18,600.

They also still need to show they are in a marriage or civil partnership when they apply for a family visa, intend to be within six months, or that they have been living together for at least two years.

Ministers say the increased income threshold will help cut immigration levels, which have reached record highs in recent years, and ensure families can support themselves.

Lee, 24, from Belfast, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “This policy means that the girl I want to marry, the girl I love…I cannot live with her and it’s destroyed me.”

He had planned to propose to his girlfriend Sarah, who lives in Malaysia, in the coming months. They met in Leeds three years ago, where he was studying engineering and she was studying law.

The couple were planning a new chapter together in the UK, but Lee said their plans for a family life are “basically destroyed by this”.

Lee earns £26,000 as a researcher in Belfast, and said his chances of earning much more than that at his age and experience level are remote.

He continued: “I just hate this, all this planning we’ve had and it’s just now all crashing down. Now basically if I want to be with someone I love, I can’t be in this country anymore.

“My mind has kind of went everywhere, to some very dark places I’ll be honest.”

British citizen Josie lives with her Italian husband in Ancona, Italy. The couple – both scientists – married in December 2020 and were planning on moving to the UK to settle.

But Josie said the prospect of earning £38,700 as a lab assistant at a British university is highly unlikely, with going-rate salaries routinely below that level.

Asked what her family’s plan was now, the 33-year-old told 5 Live: “I don’t know, not come back? That would break my mum’s heart. I don’t know, I really don’t know.

“Basically it’s forcing us into a position that will make it very, very difficult – if not impossible – to come to the UK.”

Cam, 28, told the BBC how he is already looking for a new home in London where his American wife can come and join him after four years of long-distance relationship.

They were planning to apply for a family visa in March, by which time Cam would have been in his new job long enough to show he has a stable income – but with the new threshold due to come into force from April, they are facing uncertainty over whether their application will make it through in time.

He told BBC News: “There’s a huge amount of anxiety. This is going to cause a lot of hurt and pain to a lot of people.”

On Tuesday, Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said the new minimum threshold could be disapplied in “exceptional circumstances where there would be unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant, their partner, a relevant child or another family member”.

Personal savings and benefits can also be taken into consideration when applicants have to demonstrate how they would be able to support their family, No 10 said.

The government argues the new £38,700 threshold – which is also being introduced as a minimum salary for many migrants seeking work visas – brings it into line with average earnings.

According to the Office of National Statistics, median gross annual earnings for full-time employees in the UK were £34,963 in April 2023.

The change to family visas is expected by the government to reduce net migration by 10,000 a year. Family visas accounted for a net migration of 39,000 in the 12 months up to June 2023.

Overall net migration for the same period was 672,000, a number the government is trying to cut by 300,000 with its wider reforms to legal immigration.

Dr Madeleine Sumption, director of the University of Oxford-based Migration Observatory, said the change will disproportionately hit those who are already less likely to be on higher wages.

She said: “The largest impacts will fall on lower income British citizens, and particularly women and younger people who tend to earn lower wages.

“The income threshold will also affect people more if they live outside of London and the South East, in areas of the country where earnings are lower.”

One of them is Katie, a 25-year-old supermarket worker from Lincoln, who was “crying all night” when the change was announced.

Katie and Quinlan will at least be reunited over Christmas – just are unsure what the future holds.

In 2020, she met Quinlan, from Indiana, US, on an online dating app. The pair got married in July 2023 and plans were under way for him to relocate to the UK.

As a supermarket worker, Katie earns £19,000 a year, including overtime pay – less than half of the new salary threshold.

She told the BBC: “Everything we were planning for ages has just gone down the drain. We finally are stable enough to start doing more hours to get the amount needed and then it practically jumps up by 50%.”

The couple’s next steps are not certain. She continued: “To stay here or go there. We shouldn’t have to choose something like this. It’s cruel.”

Ruby and Furkan are in a similar position. When they met on holiday in Turkey in the summer of 2021, she thought it was “a holiday romance – I didn’t expect anything more to come of it”.

Fast forward two-and-a-half years and the pair are newly married, but forced to live apart.

The 31-year-old from Plymouth was self-employed, but decided she would stand a better chance of demonstrating she had a steady income to support her husband’s visa application by taking a job as a veterinary receptionist, and now earns £23,000 a year.

But the changes announced this week have upended their plans completely, and they are still digesting what it means.

Ruby said: “I woke up this morning and saw the news posted on Facebook. I was devastated. I thought that surely there is no way they have hiked it up that amount.”

Starting to cry, she told the BBC: “I can’t believe I have revolved my life around this and then they change the rules after 11 years. Now I just have to hope we can be approved before April.

“If that doesn’t happen, there is no option but for me to move to Turkey. That is not the end of the world as it is a beautiful country but I would like it to be my decision, not Rishi Sunak’s.”

BBC News

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