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UK waters down plan for £38,700 minimum salary to bring over foreign spouses

UK waters down plan for £38,700 minimum salary to bring over foreign spouses

by host

LONDON — The U.K. government softened its controversial plan to make it more difficult for people to bring non-British spouses to the U.K.

Under a major legal migration shake-up announced earlier this month, the Home Office declared that it would significantly raise the minimum salary that British citizens or migrants already settled in the U.K. would need to show they are earning to allow relatives to join them under a family visa.

The threshold is currently £18,600 but was set to rise to £38,700 — including when existing visa holders renew.

That prompted warnings the policy would wrench families already living in the U.K. apart, and throw plans to bring relatives to the country into chaos.

But, in a change slipped out just before the Christmas break, the department now says the threshold will rise to just £29,000 in the spring.

Further rises are still penciled in, the government says, but they have no fixed implementation date. The Home Office said the threshold “will be increased in incremental stages to give predictability.”

In a further change, existing visa holders renewing their visas won’t be hit by the new earnings threshold.

It means Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is still tightening the rules considerably — riling some on the left of his governing Conservative Party — but by less than promised two weeks ago, a move already angering MPs on the right.

“That seems a very sensible change to me,” ex-Immigration Minister Damian Green, chair of the One Nation Conservatives caucus of centrist MPs, told POLITICO London Playbook.

But a spokesperson for ex-Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick — who quit Sunak’s government last month after accusing him of softening asylum policies — said the whole package “needs to be implemented now, not long-grassed to the spring or watered down. More measures are needed, not less.”

Fellow right-wing Conservative David Jones, deputy chair of the European Research Group, said the change was “alarming” and warned it was “a great pity the announcement was not made while the House was sitting.”

‘Transitional arrangements’

Home Secretary James Cleverly had told the Commons earlier this month that the crackdown on legal migration — which also includes significant hikes in earnings thresholds beyond the spousal changes — would “take effect from next spring.”

The next day No. 10 Downing Street defended the £38,700 threshold as “fair and balanced.” But after outcry, Sunak told last week’s prime minister’s questions there would be “transitional arrangements.”

Legal Migration Minister Tom Pursglove wrote to MPs on Thursday night confirming the change, a host of other “transitional arrangements” and details on timing.

“Our intention remains to bring this in line with the new minimum general salary threshold for Skilled Workers, £38,700,” the Home Office said of family visas. This will ensure people only bring dependants to the U.K. they can support financially and will apply to all British and settled sponsors under the five-year partner route.

Cleverly and Pursglove are at pains to insist that the overall package could still reduce migration to the U.K. by 300,000.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper — whose own opposition Labour Party has long wrestled with immigration policy — called the situation “chaos.”

Labour, which polling suggests is on course to form the next government, hasn’t come out against the package. But it says it should be examined by the government’s independent Migration Advisory Committee.

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