• Tuesday, April 23, 2024


New Tory visa rules lead to anger and outrage

The government outlined that a British citizen aiming to sponsor their foreign spouse to live in the UK would now be required to earn a minimum of £38,700 per year

Home Secretary James Cleverly arrives ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting in number 10, Downing Street on November 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

Public discontent surged on Saturday (9) night, over the new Tory visa rules and the government’s perceived love only toward the rich, which could compel numerous British families to face the tough choice of separation or leaving the country.

The announcement by home secretary James Cleverly last week outlined that a British citizen aiming to sponsor their foreign spouse to live in the UK would now be required to earn a minimum of £38,700 per year for a family visa application to be considered.

Reports from government briefings suggested these alterations could reduce the number of family visas by approximately 10,000, The Guardian reported.

This change compounds the challenges faced by numerous “Skype families” previously separated due to the prior requirement of a minimum £18,600 salary for the British partner.

The campaign group Reunite Families UK reported a surge in membership last week following the announcement that would limit only about a quarter of British individuals from meeting the required income to sponsor a spouse.

Jane Yilmaz, co-founder of the group, expressed widespread dismay and said, “Everyone feels the rug has been pulled from under their feet.”

Dropping this bombshell right before Christmas is devastating for our families, she said.

There are individuals already separated because they could not meet the £18,600 threshold, and now, reaching the new target seems unfeasible.

Yilmaz emphasised the impact on numerous exiled members who had hoped to return to their homeland: “We’ve got loads of members who are exiled who have always lived in hope they might be able to come back to their own country. The government harps on about family values and how important the family unit is, then they do this.”

Andreea Dumitrache, co-CEO at the3million, representing EU citizens in the UK, condemned the increase, labelling it as “a direct assault on families across the country” and urged ministers to discard it.

She highlighted the predicament faced by British citizens in the EU, asserting that many would face a difficult choice between their families overseas and a parent in need of care in the UK.

Conservative figures have also expressed apprehension. Lord Barwell, former chief of staff to Theresa May, criticised the policy, stating that it was “morally wrong and unconservative to say that only the wealthiest can fall in love, marry someone and then bring them to the UK”

Henry Hill, deputy editor at Conservative Home, echoed concerns about the £38,700 threshold, suggesting that it could prevent numerous Britons from marrying a foreign national. He questioned the legitimacy of such a threshold, expressing skepticism about its necessity or priority.

Hayley Cartagena, who met her partner Elvin in 2015 while both were employed on a cruise ship, faced significant challenges in bringing him to the UK.

Becoming pregnant in 2016 prompted Hayley to leave her job at sea and relocate to Tyneside. However, due to Elvin’s visa limitations, he had to leave the UK a month before their son Benjamin was born, continuing to work on cruise ships until Hayley could secure a job with a sufficient income to sponsor him. Eventually, in 2022, they obtained a family visa.

Reflecting on their journey, Hayley expressed frustration with the recent policy change: “We had six years of fighting to get him here. Now he’s working seven days a week at the factory, doing overtime to make sure we’ve always got the money for the next visa.”

She highlighted the financial strain imposed by the new regulations, especially for those residing in regions with lower income levels like the north-east.

Criticising the policymakers, Hayley said, “I look at parliament and think: ‘half of you are descended from immigrants and some of you are married to foreign nationals’. But that sort of money means nothing for you. I live in the north-east – we’re not a high earning area. Even those down in London will be panicking.”

Benjamin, now a six-year-old was diagnosed with autism, an endured years without his father due to visa restrictions. “We had to take him to the factory to show him where papa works,” Hayley said. “So, he could visualise it – he had anxiety because he was frightened that papa would just disappear again.”

Concerns loom for Hayley and others facing potential displacement, especially regarding proposals suggesting that those already residing in the UK would need to meet the heightened income threshold upon visa renewal.

Ben Brindle, a researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, expressed surprise at the notion of retrospective rule changes. He said if this is true, it would be quite surprising as typically the government does not apply rules changes retrospectively to people who are already here.

Ryan LaBorde, an American in his second year of mental health nursing training, is among those hoping Brindle’s assessment holds true. Ryan relocated to the UK in 2018 to support his wife’s proximity to her parents in Wales and was anticipating indefinite leave to remain next year.

Yet instead of looking forward to contributing to the NHS in addressing the mental health crisis (where one in five positions remains vacant), Ryan has been grappling with restless nights following Cleverly’s announcement.

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I may be packing my bags to go back.”

With adequate notice, Ryan could have secured more shifts as a trainee nurse in the NHS. However, due to the requirement of six months’ worth of payslips, he worries that the deadline has already passed.

“We’ve put down roots here. My wife’s got a really good career going. I love nursing. Everything was looking good,” he said.

Jessica Mason, a language teacher residing in Newcastle, experienced nearly a year of separation from her Sri Lankan husband, Sanas Sahib, and their two children. She said she was effectively a single parent for 10 months while her husband was left in Sri Lanka.”

“You are forcing single parents to stay on benefits. This is a horrific hike,” she said.

According to a Home Office spokesperson, the minimum income requirement is a key principle for those bringing dependents to the UK, aiming to ensure families are financially self-reliant and capable of integrating into British society without relying on public funds. Individuals holding family visas are generally ineligible for UK benefits, except for those derived from national insurance contributions, like sick pay.

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