Backbench Debate on the Minimum income thresholds for partner and spousal visas – Summary and key points raised

Backbench Debate on the Minimum income thresholds for partner and spousal visas Summary and key points raised

On Tuesday the 23rd of April a Backbench Debate on the Increase to the Minimum Income Requirement was held in Parliament thanks to being put forward by Paul Blomfield MP.

In this article we will sum up what have been the main contributions from MPs as well as what has been the positions put forward by the Labour frontbench and the government – who was represented by the Minister for Legal Migration Tom Pursglove MP.

Opening the Debate, Mr Blomfield MP highlighted how the spouse visa policy have turned upside down the lives of his constituents and people across the country adding how:

"they are victims of the chaos in Government migration policy, which does not seem to extend beyond the mantra of stopping the boats.
He continued by highlighting how he feels that the family visas policy has been “developed on the back of a fag packet” before stressing how the Home Office has refused to publish the impact assessment of the changes coming in, adding
presumably, as with previous Home Office impact assessments, because the results were not favourable to its arguments.

Before concluding his initial speech by highlighting the impacts the policy is having on people in his constituency and across the country.

The MP for Manchester, Gorton Afzal Khan MP highlighted his concern that,

the policy only entrenches the UK’s hostile immigration environment, as it is likely to be overwhelmingly discriminatory against ethnic minorities, particularly British Asians.” A point he demonstrated by saying how
workers of Pakistani heritage have the lowest median hourly pay of any ethnic group

Margaret Greenwood MP highlighted the words of one of her constituents talking of the “classist overtones” of the policy before stressing how the policy targets people trying go about their lives. 

In his following intervention Paul Blomfield MP highlighted the variety of professions including nurses, teachers, policy officers but even university researchers who earn a salary below the threshold before focussing on the gender imbalance of the policy with women particularly impacted by it.

Alistair Carmichael MP talked quite movingly of the human aspect of the policy bringing as an example his constituents of the Orkney and Shetland islands who might need to emigrate to continue their education and often when returning want to do so with a loved one meet during their time abroad.

This led various MPs to question the Minister and the government’s message that the policy is to avoid people becoming a burden on the state. In the words of Margaret Greenwood MP,

we really need to debunk the myth that the Tories are peddling.”


Paul Blomfield MP again summed up really neatly the two-tier family reunification system that has been created by the policy by saying how:

It is fundamentally unfair that partners and families are being priced out of the right to live in the UK with a foreign partner—priced out of their right to a family life on the basis of how much they earn. It is a two-tier system based on wealth.

Mr Blomfield MP then went on to highlight how poorly the UK family migration system fares when compared to comparable countries around the world including in Australia which hasn’t got an earnings threshold for family visas.

This was followed by some policy proposals to have a fairer approach to the MIR including:

  • Pegging to the national minimum wage or national living wage (just over £22,000 for somebody working 37.5 hours a week.)
  • Taking into account the joining family member’s anticipated earnings on arrival, as we do after they are in the UK.

Mr Bloomfield MP then highlighted what we hope will be part of Labour’s position on the rules:

the need for a root-and-branch review of the spousal migration rules that considers the unfairness at their heart and the disproportionate impact of the Government’s proposals on so many.”  Arguing that in the meantime, the planned increased this year and in 2025 should be suspended, and the Government should listen to those whose lives are being affected.”

Stuart McDonald MP spoke of the fact that in the 7 years since he led another Backbench Debate on the same topic

"the thresholds are now even more arbitrarily brutal and the number of people whose lives will be destroyed is even greater. With more people than ever falling in love with someone from another country, the Government are making it more difficult than ever for those couples to enjoy their family life here”
In another poignant point, Mr McDonald highlighted the generational impact of the rules saying that the government’s message to young people is
“You can fall in love with whoever you wish, but if you want to marry a non-UK national and you are not earning whatever arbitrary sum we decide, you will need to go and live somewhere else. You can have the love of your life. You can have your country and the right to live here. But you can’t have both"

Something that he said contrast with the many Conservative MPs who have a foreign-born partner. Despite of this, they have voted for a policy that

 “is not a small c conservative policy or a pro-family policy at all. It is a desperate and reactionary policy, playing politics with the family lives of our children and future generations.

Mr McDonald MP then showed the fallacy in the government’s justifications for the policy and rhetorically asking whether

"the Minister is saying that nobody earning less per year than £29,000, or £39,000 from next year, is capable of supporting their spouse. That is an extraordinary proposition. It would also have lots of implications for the Government’s policies on public sector pay, the minimum wage, social security and lots more” Before adding: “What this is really about is politics: shaving a couple of percentage points off net migration, sending a signal—a dog whistle, really—and doing untold damage to people’s lives.

The MP for Stroud, Siobhan Baillie, praised our member and her constituent Rebecca Gray who since the announcement in December has been campaigning relentlessly against the changes saying

Rebecca has taught me never to underestimate the power of a feisty woman trying to protect and fight for her family, while also armed with TikTok. She has made a very compelling case across her social media, which has led to a number of other people getting in touch with her to tell their stories.”

Sir Stephen Timms MP talked about how increasing income thresholds on spousal visas will barely dent migration figures before saying how it is extraordinary that the Government did not even consult the Migration Advisory Committee before announcing the change. A change which according to the MP will cause great hardship for those affected. Thousands of people will have to live without their partners and thousands of children will have to live without a parent. He then highlighted how

“This is a spiteful change that will undermine cohesion in our society in the long term”


“Conservative politicians very often recognise the damage caused by breaking up families, but here they choose to break them up quite deliberately”

The increase in the minimum income requirement goes far beyond the level to deliver the Government’s stated aims for the threshold. It will reduce migration only minimally, but it will cause great hardship to thousands and damage the fabric of our society. It will be ineffective, unfair and harmful, and it should be scrapped.”

Tim Farron MP asked the Minister a question that gets to the heart of it all:

"can he define what constitutes a burden to the state, given that an individual on a spousal visa has no recourse to public funds?” He then went on to highlight how the new change “will force British and settled mothers into solo parenting. It will force them into a position where they will not be able to work because of childcare requirements. There will be additional costs for the state, and it will cause heartache, pain, sadness and separation for families up and down our country. It will make it much harder, rather than easier, for mixed nationality families to integrate into society, so the social disbenefits are huge as well. British citizens and settled residents are very badly affected by these rules.

Olivia Blake MP highlighted how:

it seems that Ministers are intent on blaming every kind of migrant for the chaos they themselves have created in the asylum and migration system and beyond, whether that is asylum seekers, social care workers, overseas graduates or now families

Hywel Williams MP spoke of the regional disparity in incomes across the UK and how the changes will increase indirect discrimination and also spoke of the impact particularly on young people who will be also more likely

“to be unable to return to the UK because of this indirectly discriminatory rule.

The debate was concluded by the contributions of the Shadow SNP Spokesperson for Home Affairs Alison Thewliss MP, the Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock MP and the Legal Migration Minister Tom Pursglove who put forward the government’s position on the various points that were raised by MPs during the debate.

Alison Thewliss MP spoke of the many constituents who, over the years since she was elected, have contacted her for help with the rules which she considers discriminatory. She spoke of people who have missed out on the target by the equivalent of an hour’s overtime and consequently have been unable to bring their loved ones to live with them.  Adding:

"I want to put it on the record that the people affected by this change are our friends, our families, our neighbours and our constituents. I thank them all for the honour they have paid to Scotland by choosing it as their home. They deserve much better than having a price put on love and family life by the Conservative Government.
Before highlighting how many of the people affected
do valuable jobs; they are not necessarily well-paid jobs, but they are indeed valuable to our economy and our society
She also strongly criticised the lack of a publication of an impact assessment that could be used to understand
what the impact of this policy will be on people in different geographies, on women, ethnic minorities, self-employed people and young people. It seems absolutely ludicrous that they have gone ahead with this policy without publishing an equality impact assessment.
Adding “Will the Minister say why the salary threshold is £38,700? That figure has not yet been justified. Was it plucked out of air?"

The Shadow Immigration Minister, Labour’s Stephen Kinnock MP spoke of net migration spiralling out of control before adding that whilst they support the basic aim of the MIR, they are critical with the fact the new threshold:

must not be a number plucked out of thin air arbitrarily. That is why we have consistently raised concerns about the lack of an evidence base behind the initial increase to £29,000.
He also criticised the lack of a publication of an impact assessment on the changes which makes it impossible for the Houses of Parliament to properly scrutinise the government’s plan. Later, he went on to highlight Labour’s position on the MIR:

The first thing Labour would do, if we are privileged enough to form the next Government, would be to ask the MAC to review this policy and to make recommendations about the level at which the threshold for spousal visas should be set in future. The MAC review that we would commission would consider a range of factors, including the historical aim of ensuring that migrants are able to be self-sufficient, and how the benefits system connects with that aim. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central suggested exploring the way in which the threshold might interact with the minimum wage. The review would also consider the number of people affected, how they will be impacted, and the overall impact on net migration.

Kinnock also highlighted how in 2020 the MAC said that: “We…think now would be an opportune time to reconsider the minimum income requirements associated with this route. The MAC are concerned that previous analysis may have given too much weight to the fiscal contribution of such migrants and insufficient attention to the benefits that accrue, to both the family and society, from the route. In addition, it is a considerable time since the current income requirements were introduced, so more evidence should now be available to review the impact of these requirements.”
The Shadow Minister concluded the speech by saying how the manner in which the changes were announced proves

“that the Government are motivated by performative cruelty

Responding to the points raised during the debate, the Legal Migration Minister, Tom Pursglove MP said that the government:

“are taking a fair approach to tackle net migration. It will not only bring down the numbers substantially but address the injustice of a system that, if left untouched, would enable employers to recruit cheap labour from overseas at the expense of the British worker, and put unsustainable pressure on our most vital public services

He then went on to defend the decision by saying how:

The decision to raise the MIR is a key part of our plan to reduce overall migration levels. Taken together, the changes we are implementing will mean that the 300,000 people who came to the UK last year would not now be able to come. The right to family life is a qualified right, and in making our decision we carefully balanced that right against the legitimate aim to protect the UK’s economic wellbeing.

Mr Pursglove MP then went on to justify the government’s line on joining family members needing to rely on the state by using the very specific examples of the few people that due to destitution or risk of it, reasons relating to the welfare of a child, or exceptional circumstances they are then allow access to public funds move to the 10-year route to settlement.

The Minister then went on to defend the government by saying how they have given families “the time to plan effectively and to make arrangements to meet the relevant income requirement. That is why we are implementing the increase incrementally, and why it has not been applied retrospectively

He concluded his intervention by saying how the plans are justified by the need to reduce net migration.

Closing the debate Paul Blomfield MP, said how, regardless on one MP’s politics there is something that

“has shone through all contributions: that this policy is not fair and not in our country’s interests. There are different approaches that should be explored. We need to drop this policy now and to develop a better alternative, and referring it to the MAC would be a useful first step.

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