New family visa rules could leave British citizens with a foreign partner facing greater restrictions on who they can live with than migrant workers, according to leading immigration researchers.
Under new rules announced by Home Secretary James Cleverly, the minimum income for British citizens who want to live with family members in the UK is up to £38,700, an increase of more than £20,000 from the previous figure of £18,000.
The change has been met with dismay and anger by many of those affected, who now face being unable to live with partners or children in the UK.
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The new threshold is above the average salary earned by 70% of UK workers and has been characterised as allowing only the richest Britons to choose who they can marry.
The Migration Observatory at Oxford University said it is not clear why the new earnings threshold was chosen, and concluded the rules will leave migrant workers employed in the NHS or other public service roles with more rights than British employees doing the same job.
It said: “Counterintuitively, the package taken together means that, in some circumstances, British workers would face more restrictive rules on family than migrant workers in the same job.”
“For example, health professionals in the NHS who come to the UK on skilled work visas would be able to bring their non-UK citizen partners with them.
“A new restriction on dependants applies to care and senior workers, but not to other health jobs.
“However, the majority of British nurses working in the NHS earn less than £38,700 per year and so would not have the same rights.”
Their analysis also concludes the new policy will disproportionately affect women, a smaller proportion of whom earn the higher salary, and exclude almost all part-time workers.
The group said: “Whereas around 60% of men earn less than the new income requirement, this rises to more than 75% for women.
“The earnings of almost all part-time employees fall below the threshold too, in effect limiting the right to live in the UK with migrant dependants to full-time workers.”
Sky News has been contacted by dozens of people who face being unable to live with partners and spouses as a result of the policy change.
One Briton living in China who had been planning to return with his Chinese wife said “I feel like I have been exiled”.
A British woman with a Belgian partner, who has no immediate prospect of earning above the new threshold, said: “I feel like I’m being banished from my own country for having fallen in love with someone.”
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.