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One rule for the rich


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The Government’s plan massively to increase the minimum income threshold required to sponsor family members to the UK came one step closer yesterday with the publication of a report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). The full report can be accessed here. Analysis by Alan Travis of The Guardian can be found here and by Matt Cavanagh of the IPPR here.

The MAC is proposing the introduction of a minimum gross (i.e. before tax) income threshold of at least £18,600 and perhaps as much as £25,700. The MAC assumes that this threshold excludes possible future income from the spouse entering the UK – which means that the figures are proposed minimum incomes for the UK-based sponsor alone. Both figures, but particularly the higher one, are based on a huge range of assumptions.

The MAC also estimates that 45% of current applicants would not meet the lower income threshold and 64% of current applicants would not meet the higher threshold. For comparison, that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia, tells me that in 2011 average and median individual earnings in Britain were around £26,000. Travis estimates that half the UK’s working population would be excluded from sponsoring family members by the higher of the two proposed thresholds.

As the MAC recognise in the report, there would be a significant bias against applicants from Scotland and the north of England, where average incomes are lower. There would therefore be a bias in favour of migration to the London area. The figures cited also assume that there are no children or dependents in the household, and the MAC proposes a multiplier formula to address this issue, meaning that much higher thresholds might be introduced for those with children.

The basis of calculation for the two proposed figures of £18,600 and £25,700 is very different, so it is not really a question of the Government picking a number somewhere between the two – it will likely be one or the other. The lower figure is based on the MAC’s opinion on income level required not to receive any benefits including tax credits. The higher figure is referred to as the ‘net fiscal impacts approach’, which uses a broader interpretation of the concept of burden on the state.

There will no doubt be more news to follow on this subject. There is no timescale for the introduction of the income threshold, but given Cameron’s support for the idea it may be introduced quite soon.

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The Free Movement blog was founded in 2007 by Colin Yeo, a barrister at Garden Court Chambers specialising in immigration law. The blog provides updates and commentary on immigration and asylum law by a variety of authors.


30 Responses

  1. I think most people in the UK would agree with this and I think most would be surprised to learn that the income threshold a sponsor must satisfy in order to bring a spouse to the UK is so low (£5500). As Will Hutton says in his latest book Them and Us, it offends people’s basic sense of fairness to see those who have contributed little or nothing into a system being able to gain relatively easy access to means tested benefits, not to mention poisoning the debate on immigration.

    1. That the access to benefits should be conditional on immigration/residence status — which has nothing to do with contribution to the “system” — offends my basic sense of fairness.

    2. Unfortunately the MAC is guilty of inviting the public not to compare like with like. The proposed thresholds (£18,600 and £25,700) are before tax and one must pay for everything out of that figure. The £5,000 comparator they offer (always being careful not to directly compare, though) is after housing. What they also do not say is that the case law of the tribunal from which they have derived this figure also states that the minimum level of income has to be that equivalent to income support plus all associated benefits, such as council tax relief, free school dinners and so on. I don’t have the time, energy or willpower to do the calculations but I suspect the £5,000 figure is highly misleading.

      Again, I’m not economist enough to work it out but I’m highly suspicious of their approach to ‘net fiscal impact’ as I don’t think they are taking enough into account. All the research has pointed to migration having a huge positive net impact and immigrants paying more tax proportionately than the home grown population. I suspect we’ll see some learned critiques emerging soon from reputable academic sources.

    3. £5500 is *very* misleading. Based on UK average rent and council tax, the current threshold is about £293 a week post-tax for a couple, which works out to around £19000 gross salary. Of course, lots of people stay with parents or friends or live in cheaper parts of the country, but the Income Support level is, on average, higher than the lower of the proposed thresholds. But the IS threshold has the advantage of being adaptive…

    4. Migrant spouses are subject to the “no recourse” provision until they get ILR, However if they’re employed or self-employed, they’re still “welcome” to pay tax at the same level as others who would have recourse.

      Preventing people from living with a genuine spouse (or forcing them to leave their country to do so) should also offend a basic sense of fairness. The pre-entry English test is another problem in this area, the language could be learnt between arrival and doing KOL/applying for ILR.

  2. Worth pointing out that even the lower threshold is calculated on the assumption that someone receiving working tax credits is a “burden on the state”, which I find pretty objectionable as one that receives a small amount of credits but pays rather more in tax.

    the report attempts a comparison with spouse visa regimes in other countries, only to find that they are broadly similar to the existing UK system; they fail to point out that their proposals would seem to place the UK well out of line with such soft touchs as Switzerland. The thresholds also take no account of the sponsor’s capital or property ownership, or the spouse’s earnings. surely this would not survive legal challenge?

    1. In Germany there is only a maintenance and accommodation requirement if it would be “reasonable” for the German spouse to live in the other country. This can be the case if the German spouse also has that citizenship and/or has lived there for several years with the right to work and speaks that language fluently. “Reasonable” is defined by the court applying a right to family life in the constitution which goes further than Article 8 ECHR.
      Most spouses of Germans are not subject to MAA and have recourse to public funds.
      If you have a German child there is never a MAA requirement.
      A role model in treating humans as humans rather than objects of economic value.

    2. “A role model in treating humans as humans rather than objects of economic value.”

      Here, here. Well said. That in one of the top 10 richest countries in the world one of the main things the government wants from migrants is money. Sadly I find this true of many of us British folk too.

    3. The Government seeks money from everyone, not just migrants.

      British benefit recipients are complaining of a cut in the real value of their benefits. British motorists are complaining government is taking too much money from them in fuel duty. British public sector workers are complaining government is taking money away from them through pension cuts.

      Its not just migrants being hit- look at the news for proof. We are in an economic crisis that is affecting everyone.

      And I think you mean ‘hear, hear’- not ‘here, here’.

    4. Q.E.D. (“Sadly I find this true of many of us British folk too.”)

      PS – as a qualified accountant I probably do understand the UK tax system better than most.

      Migrants have lots to offer than just money – culture, family, knowledge/ideas, business skills, integrity, good attitudes, etc… Migrants have to pay tax as normal, but get restricted on benefits, and have to pay extortionate visa fees (which I would call “Indirect Taxation”).

    5. Q.E.D? I’m not sure how you concluded I was British?

      I’m not sure why you mentioned that you’re an accountant so not sure how to reply to that. In any case, I agree that some migrants do contribute a lot- more than many British citizens. But equally there are many that contribute very little if anything at all.

      Also, if you know anyone that works for the Home Office or DWP you’ll know that those of certain nationalities contribute a huge amount to the British economy (Poles for example) but the vast majority of migrants of other particular nationalities contribute nothing and take out a great deal to the poit it becomes obscene. It is that issue that needs to be addressed.

    6. You are not suggesting that one’s right to drive a car at a reasonable price (not that it exists) is comparable to the right to family life enshrined in the ECHR, are you?

    7. European citizen, I’m not sure I understood your anaology so can’t reply to it in a meaningful way.

      I would add, however, that with rights come responsibilities and if you’re a foreign national living in the UK is a privilege and not a right.

    8. Sorry if I wasn’t clear. You say that “not only immigrants are being hit” and then proceed to give examples of entitlements which are being lost. However, I would not consider “taking too much money for fuel duty” to be comparable to not letting somebody enjoy their right to family life just because they earn 100 pounds less than some arbitrarily defined sum.
      Also, as a European citizen :) I would add that I have the right to live in any EU country.

  3. Ricardo, sponsor income and the ability of immigrants to access benefits are two totally separate issues. It would certainly be possible to keep the income sponsorship threshold as it is, and prevent a sponsored spouse from accessing benefits for X number of years.

  4. Is this for
    a. People on time limited work based visas,
    b. Residents (ILR / UK nationals) sponsoring spouses and other family members.
    or both?

    1. I understand it’s only for (b). The PBS dependent rules will continue to apply to spouses of migrants on those routes.

    2. It applied to all people who want to sponsor their spouses to join them in the UK. I guess it will be the same for other dependant relatives, as the purpose to prevent them from becoming a burden to the state. so whether you are British or person with limited leave wishing to bring over the spouse, you must meet this new wage requirement. as for the pensioners, it may be harder, but again, Art 8 ECHR will be very important.

  5. I am a little confused with the UKBA release perhaps you may be bale to assist me – in the first paragraph it would would appear the objective of the proposal is to make it difficult for the foreign spouse to be eligible to apply for ‘citizenship’. If I understand it procedure of obtaining citizenship correctly in most cases the applicant would be required to first obtained ILR . However later in the release it states ‘The MAC was asked by the government to consider what the minimum income threshold ….for SETTLEMENT in the UK under the family route’.

    1. British citizenship by naturalisation of adults always requires that the applicant have ILR and three years of legal residence if married to a British citizen. Applicants not married to a British citizen require five years of legal residence and ILR for a year. There is no maintenance requirement for naturalisation and the applicant, being an ILR holder, may be in receipt of any public funds to which they are entitled.

      Therefore changes to the spouse rules will affect citizenship in that it will be necessary to meet any new rules prior to acquiring ILR. If the spouse visa period is five years instead of two, then effectively naturalisation will only be possible for spouses of British citizens after five years due to the requirement to have ILR for naturalisation.

      The term “settlement” can be confusing, it is often used for applications such as a spouse visa which are themselves limited leave to enter/remain but count towards acquiring settled status. ILR is settled status, ie. not subject to a time limit or any other conditions other than lapsing if absent from the UK for over two years.

  6. Just wondering if this can possibly be introduced for in-country applicants, like FLR/ILR? There’s a reason UKBA are reluctant to refuse FLR/ILR on maintenance – they know there’s a strong chance of the applicant winning an article 8 case.

    If a couple is earning £16000 a year and getting along perfectly well and not claiming benefits, is a court going to decide it’s proportionate to split them up just because they don’t meet an income threshold? I doubt it. The courts have already decided that the Rules can be overturned if they’re disproportionate in a particular case.

    Also, we’d get situations where a couple establish their lives here for 5 years, maybe have a kid, then face the prospect of being separated because the sponsor loses their job a month before the spouse visa expires. Can’t really see that happening.

    Using an income threshold to in-country people will be a legal minefield for them, won’t it?

    1. sorry…i am a united kingdom citizen,my wife is united states citizen,she is here in the united kingdom on a 27month settlement visa,i am disabled and on benefits,my wife works,she is ableto go for Indefinate leave to remain in april 2012…and wondered if what MAC is proposing will effect us

    2. Probably not. I said there was no timeframe in my post but in fact I think this is planned for April 2012. However, I’d be astonished if it was introduced for those who have already entered the UK, it will almost certainly only be introduced for new entrants or those switching into the spouse category. Although you never know with this lot, they really don’t seem to like immigrants a lot.

    3. Who are ‘this lot’, FM?

      Ministers? UKBA officials? The wider public?

      If one was to refer to immigration lawyers as ‘that lot that like to allow foreign national criminals to remain in the UK’ I’m sure you’d have something to say about it!

    4. You’ve only recently stopped referring to immigration lawyers as “immigration lawyers”! I meant the current Government.