Charity says it has seen a huge surge in enquiries from desperately worried families, including key workers
JCWI calls for minimum income requirement to be suspended due to economic impacts of Covid-19 pandemic
11 May 2020
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) on Thursday published a brief new report looking at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on families who have to meet the minimum income requirement of the Immigration Rules in order to live together in the UK.
JCWI's 13-page report is here.
The report notes that the minimum income requirement of at least £18,600 a year affects many of those who have now been recognised as key workers and who have performed vital roles and risked their own health to keep the country going during the pandemic.
JCWI said: "For now, huge numbers of those who are separated from loved ones because of the [minimum income requirement] are the very same 'key workers' whose contribution during the pandemic is rightly applauded. The average annual salary for a healthcare assistant – the people who provide essential and life-saving care when people in hospital are at their sickest, and whose work currently puts their lives at risk on a daily basis – is just £18,000. Over 100,000 NHS staff in England earn less than £18,600 a year. Around half of women who work full-time in the care industry have an annual salary of less than £18,600 a year. The median annual salary for women working part-time in the care industry was just £10,603 in 2019."
In addition, the report highlights the problem that the historic economic downturn will have on those who need to meet the minimum income requirement when they apply to renew a spouse visa.
The report notes: "After their first 2.5 years together in the UK, UK residents and their non-EEA partners must apply for a second spouse visa, in order to stay together in the UK. When they reapply, they must prove that they have jointly been earning an annual salary of at least £18,600 for the six months prior to the application date (or 12 months if they are self-employed or have a fluctuating income). As long as the couple have met all of the Home Office requirements throughout the process, the non-EEA partner must apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after 5 years – and the couple must again prove that they meet the financial threshold."
JCWI says it has recently seen a huge surge in enquiries from desperately worried families.
"Over 7000 people have accessed our information portal with advice for those navigating the spouse visa system during the pandemic. Over 100 families have contacted us directly over the past six weeks, in desperate need of guidance as to how their applications will be assessed if they cannot meet the financial requirement," the report says.
Among the report's recommendations, JCWI calls for the minimum income requirement to be immediately suspended for couples living together in the UK.
The report also calls for the current 'no recourse to public funds' condition on people on a spouse visa to be lifted so that they are able to access essential financial support during the pandemic.
More broadly, JCWI wants the minimum income requirement to be scrapped for all.
The report notes: "Before the pandemic hit, over 40% of people across the UK were already earning less than £18,600 a year, and would therefore face heartache and separation should they happen to fall in love with someone from outside Europe. As the full economic impact of this global crisis begins to be felt, this proportion is likely to rise to unprecedented levels, with many more people out of work or in insecure and low-paid work."
JCWI said it is not fair or safe to expect people to earn above a certain level during a pandemic, or risk being separated from their loved ones.
In a parliamentary answer last month, Kevin Foster, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Future Borders and Immigration), responded to a question on the minimum income requirement and Covid-19 by saying:
"The Home Office has put in place a range of measures to support those affected by the covid-19 outbreak. We continue to monitor the situation closely and take these exceptional circumstances into account. We may make further adjustments to requirements where necessary and appropriate to ensure no one is penalised for circumstances beyond their control.
"The minimum income requirement can be met in a number of ways in addition to or instead of income from employment or self-employment. For example, income from the couple's investments, property rental or pension may also be taken into account, together with their cash savings."
JCWI told The Independent: "This is absurd. How much do the government think most people have in savings? Let alone people forced to spend thousands on visa applications."