Home Secretary hails new visa rules but families say salary changes 'totally impossible'

The Home Secretary has hailed new visa rules he claimed will “protect British workers”, but campaigners have accused the government of "punishing" families with the changes.

James Cleverly said "mass migration" had reached a "tipping point" as fresh measures for spousal visas came into force.

From Thursday Britons will need to earn at least £29,000 a year, up from £18,600, to sponsor a loved one to come and live in the UK from abroad.

The wage threshold is set to rise to £34,500 later this year, and then again to £38,700 in early 2025.

Mr Cleverly said: “I promised action and we have delivered at remarkable speed. We’ve acted to cut unsustainable numbers, to protect British workers and their wages, to ensure those bringing family to the UK do not burden taxpayers, and to build an immigration system fit for the future - and one the public can rightly have confidence in.”

But campaigners argued the new regulations will "destroy the notion of the UK as a place where families can thrive".

Businesses have also warned that raising the salary threshold will make it “much harder” for firms struggling to employ skilled staff.

Argentinian Eugenia Morales, 30, wants to join her husband Connor White in England but is unsure if she will be able to under the strict new rules.

The couple have been together for three years and have a seven-month-old baby daughter. Construction worker Mr White, who is based in West Sussex and has a daughter in England from a previous relationship, has been working extra hours at weekends to try and boost his income to the required amount to sponsor his wife.

"We don't want to be a burden to the (welfare) system, we just want to be with our families,” Ms Morales said.

"It's an awful situation. We want to be together, we want the girls to grow up together but this is making it totally impossible."

Colin Whitley, a bus driver from Halifax, said he has been working six-day weeks to have enough money to sponsor his partner to join him in the UK from Iran.

Colin Whitley (Colin Whitley/PA Wire)
Colin Whitley (Colin Whitley/PA Wire)

"Why should I, as a British citizen, be forced to leave the country which is my home to be together with the person I have fallen in love with? You cannot help who you fall in love with,” the 43-year-old said.

He added that his partner, who cannot live openly as a gay man in Iran due to the laws there, would work in the UK and contribute to the economy if he had the chance to move.

The Home Office said the new rules have provisions if a refusal of a visa application is deemed to have unjustifiably harsh consequences.

However, Reunite Families UK co-founder Caroline Coombs said families feel "punished" by the crackdown and what the government counts as “exceptional” needs to meet "a very high bar".

She said: "This increase, together with the ones which will come into force in the next 12 months destroy the notion of the UK as a place where families can thrive.

"We are dealing with a community of members who are punished and feel excluded and discriminated by their own government only because they fell in love with somebody from abroad and do not or cannot for a variety of reasons, including caring for children and/or elderly parents, earn the 'right amount' to be able to love whoever they choose.”

Labour has vowed to review the changes if it comes into power after the general election.

Thursday's measures come as part of a wider government crackdown designed to bring down record levels of migration to the UK.

Others include:

  • Reforms to restrict care workers from bringing family members to the UK which came into force on March 11.

  • Measures requiring care providers to register with the Care Quality Commission if they are sponsoring migrants started on the same date.

  • An increase to the minimum salary required for those arriving on a Skilled Worker Visa, from £26,200 to £38,700, started on April 4