Executive Summary 

British citizens and settled residents who earn less than £18,600 a year cannot live in the UK with a partner from outside the European Economic Area, because of a rule called the Minimum Income Requirement (MIR). This rule means that tens of thousands of British citizens and settled residents are unable to live with their partner in the UK. The policy pushes many affected people out of paid work.

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, over 40% of the population were already not earning enough to establish a family life with a partner from outside the EEA. Due to regional pay discrepancies, this was as high as 60% in some regions. Those already unable to meet the MIR included some 225,000 NHS England staff, as well as nearly 70% of people employed in adult social care.  

Now, as a result of the measures taken to safeguard public health, and their economic impact, many more families will struggle to earn enough – and/or meet the strict evidential requirements – in order to stay together in the UK.

Limited concessions made to the MIR on 9 June 2020 are welcome, and will protect some families from the fear of being split up because their income has fallen as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, many families whose income has been affected by the pandemic do not fall within the scope of these concessions, and will continue to fear that an inability to meet the MIR will jeopardise their future together. The Home Affairs Select Committee has raised concerns about the lasting impacts of the coronavirus pandemic as they will affect people in mixed-nationality families, and urged action to protect them from being separated as a result of a drop in income.

New Clause 22 of  the Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill would ensure that, following the end of the transition period, EEA and Swiss nationals will not be prevented from qualifying to remain in the UK as partners, merely because they cannot meet financial requirements in the Immigration Rules during the coronavirus pandemic. Amendment 33 would ensure that UK nationals and settled persons can be joined in future by EU spouses and partners and children without application of the financial thresholds and criteria that apply to non-EEA spouses, partners and children.

 

What is the Minimum Income Requirement?

The Minimum Income Requirement (MIR) means that a British citizen or settled resident who earns below a specified amount may not sponsor the visa of a spouse or partner from outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland. 

In place since 2012, the MIR means that thousands of British citizens and settled residents are not allowed to live with their partner, or are forced to leave the country and live thousands of miles away from extended family and support networks.

The base threshold is currently set at £18,600 – so a British citizen or settled person must have an annual income far higher than the minimum wage in order to sponsor their non-EEA partner’s visa. This threshold increases for those wishing to sponsor a child as well as a partner; anyone sponsoring their partner and one non-British child must earn at least £22,400 a year, plus a further £2,400 for any additional children.

Usually, only the sponsor’s UK income counts towards meeting the threshold. Proving this income is complex and can be extremely stressful. In most cases, only income from UK employment can be counted, and income from overseas employment, the non-British partner’s potential earnings from a UK job offer and support from third parties like family members cannot be used to demonstrate a couple’s financial self-sufficiency.

“My daughter is getting to know me via Skype. She was crying yesterday, and I couldn’t pick her up, and it just broke my heart… It’s not her fault and technically it’s not mine either, it’s just the circumstances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time”

        Father with a 6-month-old daughter

 

Who is affected?

The UK’s income requirement is the highest in the world relative to average earnings. It is equal to over 121% of the National Living Wage for those aged 25 and over. For 21- to 24-year-olds, it represents 129% of the National Minimum Wage (NMW), while for those between 18 and 20, it is 161% of the NMW.

The MIR is set at the same level for everyone. The Supreme Court in 2017 found that the rule is therefore discriminatory on the grounds of gender, race and region:

“Female sponsors…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"

Everywhere but London, the South East and Scotland, over half of women in work would not be able under current rules to live in the UK with a partner from outside the EEA.

 

Percentage of female workers unable to meet MIR, by region (Source: ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2018)

 

For men as well as women, regional income inequality means that the MIR discriminates against those living in lower-income areas of the UK.

 

 

 

Percentage of UK residents unable to meet MIR, by parliamentary constituency (Source: ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, 2018)

 

What impact will the current crisis have?

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on our economy, as well as on our wider society. It is already known that the number of workers on payroll is down by over 600,000 since March, with the OECD predicting an 11.5% drop in the UK’s GDP over 2020.

 

The impact of the economic downturn for families needing to meet the income threshold – either for their first application, or to remain together as a family unit in the UK – will be grave. JCWI has received hundreds of enquiries since March 2020 from families desperately worried about how they will meet the income threshold. The MIR needs to be met over the course of at least six months – or 12 months in some cases – so families will be concerned about any potential future drop in income, even if they do not need to reapply imminently.

Concessions announced in June 2020 will provide relief to some of these families. However, many of those needing to meet the MIR are unfortunately not included in these concessions. For example, anyone who is unable to prove that they were earning above the required amount for the six months leading to March, for whatever reason, will not be protected by these concessions. 

There is also no clarity as to how long the current concessions will be in place for. This means that tens of thousands of families will continue to worry that any change in their income could mean being separated indefinitely from family members. Many will continue to work, when it may not be safe to do so – for instance if they are shielding – in order to keep their income above the threshold. The only way to prevent this from happening is to suspend the MIR entirely.

Impact on the workforce

Wages across key industries typically fall below the base threshold of £18,600. Average annual pay for teaching assistants, who make up 25% of the UK teaching workforce, is estimated to be between £13,600 and £15,900. NHS England employs over 225,000 British citizens at salaries below the MIR (figures supplied by NHS England, available on request).

"I’m risking my life on a daily basis, but the salary I get for it doesn’t match up – and because of that, I’m denied the most basic right: the right to a family life"

   Barbara, an NHS cancer clinic co-ordinator who had to take on a second job during the coronavirus pandemic – and whilst pregnant – in order to meet the MIR

The MIR means that these workers are unable to establish a stable family life in the UK, with many taking the difficult decision to move to their partner’s country of origin, or to a third country.

Over 70% of care workers would not be able to establish a family life in this country with a non-EEA partner under current immigration rules, making the care industry another key sector at risk due to the MIR. There are currently over 100,000 empty jobs in the adult social care sector, so care should be taken to ensure that people in these essential but low-paid jobs are not forced out of the UK in order to establish a family life.

I am a single mother who has to look after my son as well as provide for my family. I did not want or choose to be in this position, but I am being forced to

Mother with a 2-year-old son

Across all sectors, the MIR is also forcing workers with children out of salaried employment. Many working parents unable to sponsor their partner to come to the UK are being forced to give up work in order to act as the family’s sole care-giver. This effect was not part of the government’s initial impact assessment into the rule changes.

In a survey of people affected by the MIR, carried out in 2020, over 10% of respondents had been forced out of paid work because they were not able to work enough hours whilst looking after children alone to meet the MIR, and could not earn enough to pay for childcare. Had their partners been able to join them in the UK, these sponsors would have been able to continue working, whilst sharing childcare responsibilities with their partner. Some of those who said they had been forced out of paid work by the MIR included teachers and university lecturers.

Impact on children and families

“Every time I say goodnight to my son, who is now over a year old, he bursts into uncontrollable tears because he thinks he won't see me for weeks. You have no idea how that feels”

Father with a one-year-old son

 

The MIR has had a severe detrimental impact on the thousands of families who are unable to meet the requirements. Due to the MIR, British citizens and settled UK residents have been separated from partners, parents and grandparents, often indefinitely.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, together with academics from Middlesex University and researchers from JCWI, documented the short- and long-term negative effects of these rules on children whose parents are unable to satisfy the requirements. Parents reported a range of behavioural and psychological problems, including: separation anxiety; anger; aggression; depression and guilt; disrupted sleep; bed wetting; social problems with peers; and changes to eating patterns.

These effects stem from the enforced separation of children from a parent and/or other family members, as well as the transfer of parental stress and anxiety onto children. Unresolved immigration cases are extremely stressful for parents, and anxiety, stress and deteriorating mental health among parents can have a direct impact on their children.

High levels of parental stress have been linked to separation anxiety, attention deficits and depression in children. Literature on separation and child attachment theory demonstrates that children benefit from stable relationships with parents and caregivers, and that separation from either parent can be harmful. The security of early attachments has been shown to be particularly vital for young children’s long-term wellbeing.

Recommendations

Due to its detrimental impact on families, the economy and the workforce, the MIR should be repealed, with a return to the pre-2012 rules. Under these rules, the sponsor is required to demonstrate ability to maintain their partner, who would have the right to work but no recourse to public funds. Applicants would still have to show that they are in a genuine and subsisting relationship with their partner, and the partner would have to pass an English test.

There is no published evidence to suggest that the current rules have helped to improve integration or protected the public purse. On the contrary, it is likely they have had a detrimental economic impact, forcing parents of young children out of work and onto benefits, and pushing workers in key sectors like education and social care to leave the country in order to establish a family life. What is more, they have forced thousands of British families apart for years, with a particularly damaging impact on affected children.

The MIR must therefore be reviewed and repealed as a matter of urgency. At the least, the MIR should be suspended immediately for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, to ensure that nobody will be disadvantaged if their income drops due to the pandemic.

 

For more information please contact:

 

Mary Atkinson

Families Together Campaign Officer, JCWI

[email protected] - 020 7251 8708

Minnie Rahman

Campaigns & Public Affairs Manager, JCWI

[email protected] - 020 7553 7457