Family immigration rules that put a £18,600-a-year price tag on love are 'heartbreaking'

Families devastated by earnings requirement for any non-EU spouse visa

When Ashley Prodgers, a minister in the Salvation Army, and his Georgian wife, Teya Tikaradze, returned from their honeymoon in July last year, they were looking forward to a new life together serving their local community in Addlestone, Surrey.

Little did they know that changes to family migration rules – put into place just three days before their return – had put an £18,600 price tag on love. Despite having a house and car provided by the church, Mr Prodgers' annual salary of £7,000 was deemed too low for him to get a spouse visa for his foreign wife.

The controversial changes now require British citizens wishing to sponsor a non-EU spouse to show minimum earnings of £18,600 a year, despite the fact that more than half the working population in the UK earn less than that.

Forced by the UK Border Agency to choose between a life abroad and a life apart, the couple left for Dublin.

Theirs is just one of hundreds of moving stories heard by a cross-party inquiry into the devastating impact of the new family migration rules brought into force in July last year. In its report, published today, the cross-party group urges the Government to reconsider the changes, which could continue to affect up to 17,800 British people each year, splitting up countless families as a result.

Speaking to The Independent, Mr Prodgers described their dilemma as "heartbreaking".

"The only reason we're moving is because of immigration policy," he said. "If it wasn't for that, we'd be staying in Addlestone and our community would have the same leaders. People were pretty upset when we told them we were going and were surprised and shocked by the reasons we gave."

As well as creating a two-tier, rich-and-poor immigration system, the changes are separating young children from their parents. Among the cases heard by the MPs was that of a breast-feeding mother who was separated from her baby.

Baroness Hamwee, chair of the inquiry and a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on home affairs in the House of Lords, said: "We were struck by the evidence showing just how many British people have been kept apart from partners, children and elderly relatives. These rules are causing anguish for families and, counter to their original objectives, may actually be costing the public purse.

"We urge the Government to look again at the rules and consider whether they represent the right balance between concerns about immigration management and public expenditure, and the rights of British citizens to live with their families in the UK."

The Labour MP Virendra Sharma, who was born in India, said: "The Government has set the bar for family migration too high, in pursuit of lower net migration levels. These new rules are keeping hard-working, ordinary families apart. I, and others like me, would not have been able to come to the UK to join my family if these rules had been in place then. Today we are calling on the Government to think again."

The report's findings were also welcomed by the Migrants' Rights Network. Ruth Grove-White, its policy director, said: "This now shows just how damaging the rules are to families. Being able to start a family in your own country should not be subject to the amount of money you make."

For Ashley Prodgers, who was offered a lifeline only when the Salvation Army agreed to move the couple to Dublin, any future changes will have come too late. "We've planned to move now and we have to focus on that," he said. "But I worry for other people who don't have these options. I hope it will change for everyone else affected."