In early December, Rebecca Kaya and her Kurdish husband Baran celebrated finally reaching their savings goal and qualifying for UK visas so the couple could move to the UK from Icmeler, Turkey.
Days later, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak increased the amount Britons must earn to allow their foreign partners to move to the UK, but the savings threshold also rose, raising concerns that a nest egg might no longer be enough. There was growing concern that this might not be the case.
The new policy came days after official data put legal net migration to Britain at a record high of 745,000 in 2022, prompting the government to announce a raft of measures to make it harder for people to move to the country.
Public concerns over high levels of migration have dominated Britain’s political landscape for more than a decade, playing a key role in the country’s vote to leave the European Union and prompting Sunak to try to send those who arrive illegally to Rwanda to act as a deterrent.
Targeting those who arrive on spousal visas – some 65,000 in the year ending September – the government has more than doubled the annual salary a British person must earn to sponsor a foreign partner’s visa, to 38,700 pounds ($49,170) from 18,600 pounds.
According to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, nearly 70% of British employees in the UK do not earn enough to qualify for the higher level in 2023.
It said Britain had one of the highest income requirements in the world, as many other countries base their levels around the minimum wage.
For the Kayas, they had pursued an alternative way of securing a visa, by building up personal savings from Baran’s work in the family business in the hospitality trade, Rebecca’s online jewellery company and inheritance money from her father.
They had just put the required 62,500 pounds into a UK account, where it would need to be for six months to gain a visa.
While the government has not said if the savings threshold will also rise, immigration lawyers expect it will. Immigration advice websites suggest it too could more than double, if the same calculation is applied as on income.
“We’re doing everything that they’re asking and … just as we’re at the final hurdle, they changed the requirements,” Rebecca Kaya said on a visit to a family member’s home in a small town outside Gloucester, England.
Britain’s Home Office, the interior ministry responsible for migration strategy, has said the new policies will not be applied retrospectively and until the immigration rules are amended the minimum income threshold will remain the same.
“We are establishing the specifics of the policy, including how it will apply to those renewing visas, and will confirm more details in due course,” a spokesperson said.