Legal action planned over UK’s new income threshold rules for spouse visa

Multinational families threatened with division or exile by tough new income thresholds for living together in the UK are planning legal action to overturn the “cruel and inhumane” policy.

Thousands of families with one British partner and one born abroad will be hit by the government’s announcement that from next spring, only people earning £38,700 will be allowed to bring family members to join them – up from £18,600 at the moment. Many may be forced either to live separately or to leave Britain to be together.

Reunite Families, a support and campaign organisation for people affected by immigration rules, has instructed the law firm to explore legal avenues to challenge the changes announced on 4 December by the home secretary, James Cleverly.

Grounds for a legal challenge could include the government’s handling of impact assessments of the rule change, questioning how the new £38,700 income minimum has been reached, or whether the change interferes with the right to family life under the 70-year-old European convention of human rights, which the UK helped draft and remains bound by.

Meanwhile, new analysis shows the doubling of the threshold means most people in large parts of the UK will no longer earn enough to live with a partner from abroad. Three-quarters of people can afford to bring a loved one from abroad, but under the new threshold, more than 60% will not be able to afford it, rising to 75% in the north-east of England.

Cleverly indicated this week that the new rules should be “forward-looking rather than backward”, suggesting multinational families already in the UK earning less than the salary threshold could yet be safe.

In cases where an applicant for a family visa fails to meet the income threshold, decision-makers were instructed to consider “exceptional circumstances”, which might mean refusal breached the right to family life under the European convention on human rights.

The Home Office has said the higher salary threshold is needed so that family members from abroad joining British citizens “are not burdening the state”. It said families can be exempt in “exceptional circumstances where there would be unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant, their partner, a relevant child, or another family member if their application were to be refused”.

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