Skip to main content

Government adjusts salary increase for partner visas following nationwide criticism

On 4 December 2023, the government announced several changes to the UK immigration system that are to come into effect in Spring 2024. One of the most controversial changes announced was the intention to increase the minimum salary requirement for partner visas under Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules by over 100%. The current requirement of £18,600 per annum was planned to increase to £38,700 per annum.

Following this announcement, many were concerned about the implications of this stark increase on British citizens and their family members. The Migration Observatory remarked that almost 70% of UK employees earn less than the new salary minimum. Previously, approximately 25% of UK employees earned less than the salary requirement. Different demographics of the UK will also be disproportionately affected. Women are more severely impacted, for example, with 75% of women falling foul of the new minimum salary, as compared to 60% of men. This raises legal concerns that were similarly discussed in R (on the application of MM (Lebanon) (AP) (Appellant) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 10 regarding the current salary threshold of £18,600 and its compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and the Secretary of State’s duty under s.55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.

Government Revised Guidance and Publication on 21 December 2023

By 21 December 2023, the government had backtracked on their previous announcement and published further guidance that the salary threshold for partner visas would only increase to £29,000 in Spring 2024. It is unclear whether the issues and concerns mentioned above were on the minds of government ministers when revising the threshold salary. In any case, the government has still committed to increase the salary threshold to £38,700 incrementally, across 1 to 2 years. Additionally, the government has also stated that they will scrap the separate child element to the minimum income requirement “to ensure that British nationals are not treated less favourably than migrants who are required to meet the General Skilled Worker threshold as a flat rate, regardless of any children being sponsored”.

The government clarified that those who already have a family visa within the five-year partner route, including those who apply before the threshold is raised, “will continue to have their applications assessed against the current income requirement and will not be required to meet the increased threshold”. It should be noted, however, that those already in the UK in a different immigration route will not be exempt from the new financial requirement if they wish to switch their visas after the new threshold has been introduced.

Implications of Government U-Turn

While this is a welcomed reduction for British citizens and their overseas partners alike, it still does not go far enough. The increase to £29,000 will still disproportionately affect women, who earn approximately 14.3% less than men. Additionally, those living in deprived areas in the UK will also struggle to reach the threshold, with the Northeast particularly effected by the measures, earning on average £182 less per week than London. Those in part-time jobs will also be unreasonably impacted. The result will be that families are torn apart and will not be able to join their respective British or settled partners in the UK.

If you do not meet the salary requirements, you are still able to apply under “exceptional circumstances”, provided you can evidence that a refusal of your application would result in a breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. Even if applicants could evidence such a claim, they would only qualify for indefinite leave to remain (settlement) after 10 years of continuous stay in the UK, which is double the 5 years attributed to the standard partner visa route. This would ultimately increase government costs, as applicants would need to extend their visa three times, rather than the standard one time. They would need to pay an additional five years of Immigration Health Surcharge and the application fee three times over to obtain settlement.

Solutions for the Future

As the Head of the Immigration Department at Irwin Mitchell, I believe that the increase to £29,000 per annum warrants certain modifications to the rules surrounding income under the ‘Family Migration: Appendix FM Section 1.7 Appendix Armed Forces – Financial Requirement’ (version 9.0, published 22 September 2023) guidance (the Guidance).

Currently, only salaried income from the applicant's sponsor in the UK counts towards the minimum income requirement. Following the threshold increase, I propose that the rules in the Guidance should be relaxed significantly to enable salaried income from an applicant’s employment overseas to count towards the minimum income requirement. Additionally, another factor that should be considered is whether the applicant has a confirmed job offer in the UK, which they intend to begin on arrival to the UK.

These modifications could make the proposed £29,000 salary threshold less discriminatory for the time being. With further increases on the horizon, however, it is clear the government is determined to reduce net migration regardless of any detrimental impact on family units in the UK. 

How we can help

If you want to find out more about the upcoming immigration changes and how you might be affected, our dedicated team of immigration specialists at Irwin Mitchell are here to help. For any enquiries please speak to the head of our Immigration Department Mandeep Khroud