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15th March 2024

Is marrying a foreigner now exclusively a privilege of the rich?

As the government desperately tries to cling to power they’ve announced yet another crackdown on immigration. Infuriating changes to family and skilled worker visas are set to take effect in April and they’re going to make marrying a foreigner a privilege of the rich
Is marrying a foreigner now exclusively a privilege of the rich?

In the ever faster landslide of very questionable government decisions, a plan to raise the wage threshold for family visa qualification to £38,000 was announced in December. According to the Office for National Statistics, the median salary in the UK, as of April 2023, was £34,963 a year. This means just over half the country will not be able to bring a foreign spouse to the UK once the new rules come into effect. Marrying a foreigner just became a privilege exclusively for the rich.

I’ve seen a lot of the political developments that have occurred since Labour lost the 2010 election and, 14 years into Tory rule, I must admit, nothing the Government does particularly surprises me anymore. We’ve seen the effervescent Boris Johnson, the Liz Truss versus lettuce war, and now Rishi Sunak is charitably digging his own grave. I must remember to thank Truss and Sunak for handing Labour an insurmountable polling lead. Yet the changes to family visa rules announced by the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, are the first policies to both anger and surprise me at the same time- it screams wrong on so many levels.

The Government says it will raise the visa qualification threshold by “nearly 50%” from £26,500 to £38,700 by Spring of 2024, meaning many foreign workers that employment sectors rely on will simply not be able to come to the UK. Sectors like higher education will be impacted; universities won’t be able to employ as many foreign teaching staff as before. So say goodbye to that French lecturer you adore!

The new wage requirement will also apply to family visas, the application process British citizens use to get their foreign partner into the country. So, if you visited a foreign country and developed a relationship with someone abroad, you’d be unable to come back to the UK together unless you earn over £38,000 a year.

The current timetable for this change is as follows: The minimum wage required for a family/partner visa will rise to £29,000 by April 11 2024. It will then rise further to £34,500 at an “unspecified” point in 2024, before culminating at £38,000 by 2025.

In a cruel irony, a Government press release details that no other country has an income requirement anywhere close to the £38,000 the UK will require for a family visa. They also note that according to the Migrant Integration Policy Index, a ranking which measures the assimilation of those who’ve immigrated to the new countries, the UK ranks second from bottom “for ease of family reunion” on a list of 56 countries. If the Government is aware of both these factors, why on earth are they doing this?

The Government faced serious backlash over this announcement. Some correctly argued that it’s ideologically un-conservative for a Conservative government to interfere in the love lives of its own citizens, while many lawyers said the Conservative Party risked breaking up families with the introduction of this legislation. This backlash ultimately led to the government climbing down from it’s original intention of raising the wage threshold to £38,000 at once, preferring to increase the threshold in “incremental stages.”

This climb down is indicative of the chaos that defines the Conservative Party. If the government really wanted to decrease immigration (for whatever justifications they tell themselves), pulling a range of policy levers would be far more effective than cracking down on British citizens bringing their partners back to the UK.

With universities being wonderfully diverse places, it’s very possible that you or I might meet the ‘love of our life’ at university. They could be witty, cute, and give you those feel good hormones every time you set eyes on them. But, if they happen to be an international student, the Government now has more power to assert whether they can stay in the UK after graduation. What business is it of theirs to decide whether you and your partner get to live together in the UK?

As the son of a British father and a Thai mother, I admittedly feel very strongly about this. While my family currently live abroad, if, for whatever reason, my father wanted to move back to the UK, perhaps for retirement, my family wouldn’t be able to unless he got a job that paid £38,000 a year. It just seems ridiculous that the Government wants to punish its own citizens for marrying someone from a different country.

Another battle the Government is picking over immigration is the targeting of dependants. The Tories have made it very clear they aim to prevent migrant workers from bringing over family members dependent on their UK salary, arguing they’re a toll on the so-called “public purse”. The Government loves to refer to the cost of dependants in their bid to cut immigration; I think it’s part of a strategy to appeal to their traditional voter base who believe that immigrants and their family members are net beneficiaries of British tax money, rather than net contributors.

What the Government fail to realise is many people looking for work-abroad aren’t willing to move to a new country without their families (Or, do they recognise this and simply not care? I’m trying to give them the benefit of the doubt). It’s wild to me that the Government recognises Britain’s need for migrant workers to aid staff shortages, particularly in the health and social care sector, yet continues cracking down on incentives to bring the much needed workers in.

In what’s rapidly becoming a polarised political landscape similar to the chaos of the United States, it’s unfortunately no surprise to see the Conservatives targeting immigrants so directly. By shifting blame for the country’s consistent decline since the 2008 financial crisis onto immigrants, the new visa threshold acts as a smokescreen to mask the real issues the country faces. I don’t expect Labour to be capable of enacting the sweeping changes I think this country needs, but I’m at least hopeful that a change of government could put us back on the right track.

Miles Davenport

Miles Davenport

Co-Editor of News, 2023-2024, 3rd year student in History & Sociology

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