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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Kiran Staceyand Heather Stewart

Families face being split up by UK plan to cut legal migration, lawyers say

James Cleverly announced a five-point plan to bring down immigration on Monday.
James Cleverly announced a five-point plan to bring down immigration on Monday. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

James Cleverly’s plan to crack down on legal migration is causing confusion and distress for many international couples, lawyers have warned, with families facing being split up by stringent new visa rules.

The home secretary announced a five-point plan to bring down immigration on Monday, in what Downing Street said was the “biggest clampdown on legal migration ever”.

Many of Cleverly’s changes were focused on making it harder for skilled workers to get a UK visa. But the home secretary also made it far harder for Britons to bring foreign partners and family members into the country, insisting that anyone sponsoring a family visa should earn £38,700 a year – up from £18,600 today.

Data suggests this could make it impossible for between 60 and 70% of workers to bring their family into the UK.

The crackdown has caused concern among some senior Tory MPs. Alicia Kearns, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said on Tuesday she was worried the package as a whole risked dividing families. She told LBC: “It risks being very unconservative”.

Madeleine Sumption, the director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “This is definitely completely different to what any other high income country does.”

Under the new rules, someone will be able to bring a family member into the country if they earn £38,700 year. If the partner is already in the UK, both people’s incomes will be taken into account.

If someone does not qualify under those rules, they will still be allowed to bring in family members if they have sufficient savings. Under current rules that figure is £62,500, but the government is consulting over whether to increase it.

Families might be given an exemption from the rules under “exceptional circumstances”, although officials cannot say what those circumstances are, and say they review each case on its own merits.

While the package as a whole is intended to bring legal migration down by 300,000, only a few tens of thousands of that will be accounted for by the changes to family visas.

Downing Street insisted on Tuesday that the system was fair. A No 10 spokesperson said: “It’s right that we’ve made these changes … Before yesterday, that threshold had not increased in more than 10 years.”

Lawyers and applicants say, however, that it has led to distress and confusion, with many families already in the process of applying for visas now unsure of what the changes will mean for them.

Kelly Robinson, an American PhD student living in Norwich with her partner, Owen Sennitt, had applied for her spousal visa last week, confident Sennitt’s job as a local journalist would be enough to qualify for it. Now she believes she may have to return to the US after eight years living in Britain.

“It is a real shock,” she said. “The entire life we have built is being taken away from us overnight.”

Nick Gore, a partner at Carter Thomas solicitors, said: “This is devastating for many people that just about meet the existing financial requirements. There is a huge spectrum of people who are affected – some are on minimum wage jobs, others have started their own businesses. This will split families up.”

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