Conservative Party Manifesto and the Minimum Income Requirement

As many readers will already be aware, there is a general election taking place next week, on 8 June 2017. All parties have now released their manifestos. For immigration practitioners and their clients the following passage in the Conservative Party’s manifesto will be of particular interest:

“...with annual net migration standing at 273,000, immigration to Britain is still too high. It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades. We will, therefore, continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union. We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” (see page 54 of the Manifesto available here)

The commitment to reduce net migration o the tens of thousands, seemingly at the expense of all else, also appeared in the Conservative Party’s 2010 and 2015 manifestos (see page 21 of the 2010 manifesto here and page 29 of the 2015 manifesto here).

The inaccuracy of the UK Government’s method of calculating net migration was highlighted by the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee in July 2013, which noted that:

“Migration statistics produced by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Home Office are blunt instruments for measuring, managing, and understanding migration to and from the UK. They are not accurate enough to measure the effect of migration on population, particularly in local areas, and they are not detailed enough to measure the social and economic impacts of migration, or the effects of immigration policy.” (see here at page 3)

However, putting this unattainable, inadvisable, and arbitrary target to one side; what caught my attention was the intention to increase the minimum income requirement for family visas. Currently British citizens must earn at least £18,600 a year in order to ‘sponsor’ their spouse or partner to come to the UK. This increases to £22,400 where there is a non-EEA child also applying, and increases by a further £2,400 for each additional such child.

As noted by the Supreme Court in the recent case MM (Lebanon)v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2017] UKSC 10:

“There can be no doubt that the MIR [Minimum Income Requirement] has caused, and will continue to cause, significant hardship to many thousands of couples who have good reasons for wanting to make their lives together in this country, and to their children.” [80]

The court recognised that this requirement:

“...may constitute a permanent impediment to many couples, because the sponsor will never be able to earn above the threshold and the couple will not be able to amass sufficient savings to make good the shortfall. Female sponsors, who have constituted as many as a third of the total, are disproportionately affected, because of the persisting gender pay gap, as are sponsors from certain ethnic groups whose earnings tend to be lower, and those from parts of the country where wages are depressed.” [81]

Nonetheless, the principle of applying a minimum income requirement was upheld as being lawful and proportionate. This conclusion was reached following a detailed analysis of the justification for setting the threshold at £18,600 and the investigations of the Migration Advisory Committee. An increase in the threshold will only invite further litigation.

Given the harsh effects of the current threshold and the stringent documentary requirements which often make it difficult for people who have sufficient earnings to evidence that fact (particularly the self-employed), it is unclear how an increase can be justified.

There appears to be no reason for the increase other than to reduce the number of people that will be able to qualify, thus reducing net migration. The fact that British citizens with low incomes, who happen to have fallen in love with a foreign national, may be forced into exile as a consequence appears to be of no concern to the Conservative Party.