‘Coronavirus has paralysed us’: Families face being split as they no longer meet visa income requirement

Home Office urged to suspend minimum income requirement for spouse visas until further notice so economic impact of pandemic doesn't see families ripped apart or risk applicants working against government guidance

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 09 April 2020 10:27 BST
The couple didn't want to give their real names, but did provide The Independent with a photograph of themselves to draw attention to the issues they and others in similar situations face
The couple didn't want to give their real names, but did provide The Independent with a photograph of themselves to draw attention to the issues they and others in similar situations face

Aisha* hasn’t slept properly in three weeks. The Turkish national moved to the UK with her British husband Jack and their two teenage children two and a half years ago and they have built a happy life in a village in Scotland, but the family risk being ripped apart because they no longer meet Home Office rules due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 51-year-old was a textile merchandiser in Turkey and now has a business selling products in the UK, but she has had to halt sales due to the lockdown. Jack, 65, has meanwhile been dismissed from his role as an exam invigilator, leaving the family with a dramatically reduced income.

This loss of work means Aisha is no longer able to meet the Home Office’s minimum income requirement for spouse visas – introduced in 2012 as part of the government’s hostile environment for immigrants – which stipulates that the applicant and their partner must have jointly earned a salary of at least £18,600 per annum.

“When I found out my husband had lost his job it felt like there was a big ball of fire in my body,” Aisha told The Independent. ”I’m so worried I can’t sleep. My children are worried. They say mum, we can’t live without you. I’m terrified they will come and deport me and I will no longer be here with them. It would devastate us as a family.”

“Both of us are qualified. We both have university degrees, but under these circumstances nobody wants to employ you. Our income is already drying up. The coronavirus has paralysed us.”

Charities warn the pandemic will mean thousands of families across the country risk being torn apart because they may no longer earn enough to be eligible, and are calling on the Home Office to suspend the minimum income requirement until further notice.

A letter to the Home Secretary from 15 NGOs expresses “extreme concern” about the economic impact of the pandemic on people seeking to remain in the UK as the spouse of a British citizen or settled resident, and warns that this could make some feel they need to work against government guidelines.

It warns that a loss of work, reduced working hours or the need to access statutory sick pay during the pandemic will make it impossible for families to earn the income required for a spouse visa under the current guidelines.

The letter, signed by groups including the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA), states: “Families dealing with the economic impact of Covid-19 and doing their best to follow government advice on social distancing should not have to worry that their future in the UK is at risk because of the pandemic.

“Nor should applicants and their partners feel forced to continue to work when it is unsafe to do so, because of concerns about being able to satisfy the financial requirements.

“Given the extremely uncertain situation, and the emotional distress for people unsure of whether they will be able to continue their family life together in the UK due to changes in their financial situation beyond their control, we ask that you treat this as a matter of urgency and suspend the minimum income requirement for applications until further notice.”

Mary Atkinson, family reunion campaigner at JCWI, said: “It’s not fair, and not safe, to ask people to prove they meet an arbitrary income requirement, or risk having their family split apart, during a pandemic. Families facing this need compassion and clarity from the government, so they can focus on staying safe in these unprecedented times.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “These are unprecedented times and we have already introduced measures to support people with immigration status, including automatic extensions of visas and modifying immigration requirements to ensure people are not unduly affected by circumstances beyond their control.

“We are keeping family immigration requirements under review, including the minimum income requirement, and will make adjustments where appropriate and necessary.”

*Names have been changed

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