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People who want to sponsor a foreign spouse or partner for a visa must usually show available maintenance funds equivalent to an income of at least £18,600 per year. This financial or minimum income requirement applies to sponsors who are British citizens, in the armed forces or settled in the United Kingdom (indefinite leave to remain or equivalent). There are different rules for migrants bringing immediate family to the UK on a dependant visa.

The Sunak Government intends to increase the income threshold from £18,600 to £29,000 in April 2024 and ultimately to £38,700 by early 2025.

Since 2012, partner visa sponsors have needed an income of at least £18,600 a year

The Coalition Government introduced the financial requirement in July 2012, as part of changes to designed to reduce net migration. It said families should be able to support themselves without being a burden on the general taxpayer.

The £18,600 threshold can only be met by relying on particular sources of income and funding described in the Immigration Rules. There are complicated rules and conditions.

For example, if the couple are relying on employment income, usually only the sponsor’s income counts. The visa applicant’s employment income can only be considered if they are already working in the UK legally and are switching to a partner visa or extending one previously granted.

There can be some flexibility in exceptional circumstances if a visa refusal would breach the couple’s human rights. The requirement does not apply if the sponsor receives Carer’s Allowance or certain disability-related benefits.

Critics object to the policy on principle and to the way it works in practice

Migrants’ rights groups and other interested parties consider the minimum income requirement unfair. A central objection is that it prevents British citizens, among others, from bringing a foreign spouse or partner to the UK. Families may also have to separate until a sponsor can meet the requirement.

Critics also highlight specific aspects or effects of the policy. These include the level of the threshold, its uneven regional and demographic impacts, and the strict evidential requirements. The impact on immigration numbers is unknown but may be in the tens of thousands.

The £18,600 threshold has been tested in court. In February 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the lawfulness of the minimum income requirement in principle but made findings that required the rules to be changed to allow some extra flexibility.

The policy has attracted considerable parliamentary interest since its introduction in 2012. The House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee called for it to be reformed in a 2023 report.

Interest has nevertheless waned in recent years, partly because inflation has reduced the impact of an £18,600 income threshold. The imminent increase to £29,000, and ultimately to £38,700, has led to renewed public and parliamentary scrutiny.

The income threshold is rising to £29,000 in April, with plans for it to hit £38,700 in 2025

The Government is raising the minimum income threshold from £18,600 per year to £29,000 from 11 April 2024. It will increase again to around £34,000 at an unspecified time later in 2024, and is planned to reach £38,700 in early 2025 (although this may depend on the outcome of the general election).

As in 2012, ministers argue that immigration is too high and foreign partners should not be a burden on the state. The increases will not be retrospective, so people who already have a spouse/partner visa or apply for one before 11 April will only need to meet the current £18,600 threshold in future applications.

£38,700 per year will be the same as the new general salary threshold for migrants arriving on a Skilled Worker visa. It is not clear why this benchmark has been chosen. The Migration Advisory Committee was not consulted, making the higher thresholds more vulnerable to legal challenge.

The Home Office is due to publish a statement of changes to the Immigration Rules on 14 March 2024. This will provide for the £29,000 increase to take place on 11 April. For regularly updated information on the rollout of the increases, see Library briefing CBP-9920, Changes to legal migration rules for family and work visas in 2024.

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