London office workers Bridge
The income requirement is designed to ensure families are self-sufficient and can be met in a number of ways, including through savings and via income from employment. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The UK government has increased the minimum income required to sponsor a family member's visa for expat workers, aiming to reduce immigration levels. Starting April 12, 2024, sponsors need to earn at least £29,000 (approximately Dh133,054) annually - up from £18,600 - to be able to sponsor their family members in UK. A further increase is planned, which will take the minimum salary required to £38,700 (approximately Dh177,592) by early 2025.

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Here are some quick questions and answers to help you understand the situation better:

Why did the UK decide to tighten visa rules?

The UK government believes immigration has become "far too high." Net migration, which is the difference between immigrants entering and emigrants leaving, reached an estimated 745,000 in 2022.

The move forms part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's plan to "cut unsustainable and unfair levels of migration, and ensure those arriving here do not burden the taxpayer".

The policy aligns with broader efforts to tighten visa regulations, including higher salary requirements for skilled workers and increased costs for student visas and NHS usage

What are the factors contributing to the rise in 'net migration'?

International students: The government perceives an influx of international students and their dependents.

Social care workforce: The growth in social care workers and their families is another concern.

Humanitarian visas and asylum seekers: Humanitarian visa programs and asylum claims are also viewed as contributing factors.

The December announcement and expected impact: These recent changes follow student visa restrictions introduced in May 2023 that took effect in 2024. The Home Office estimates that with all these new regulations in place, 300,000 fewer people would have immigrated to the UK in 2022.

What are the key elements of the plan to reduce immigration? 

The UK's ‘five-point plan’ to reduce immigration, announced in December 2023, includes stricter visa requirements, details of which were released in February and March 2024. These include: 

1. Family restrictions for care workers: Newly arriving social care workers can no longer bring their families (partners and children) on their visa.

2. Higher salaries for skilled workers: The minimum salary required for a Skilled Worker visa has jumped from £26,200 to £38,700. Additionally, the specific salary requirements for each skilled job have also increased.

3. Revamped shortage occupation list: The list of jobs with lower salary requirements for Skilled Worker visas has been shortened and renamed the "Immigration Salary List." This list will be reviewed later this year.

4. Increased income threshold for spouse/partner visa sponsors: The minimum income needed to sponsor a spouse/partner visa has risen to £29,000. This is planned to increase further in stages, reaching around £38,700 by early 2025.

5. Graduate visa review underway: The Graduate visa program, offering a two-year work permit for international graduates of UK universities, is currently under review. A report is expected by May 14, 2024.

Who will be affected? 

Family visa applies to everyone who is planning to join their spouses or immediate family members working in the UK. The new regulations cover most jobs under the points-based system (PBS) with exceptions for healthcare, social care, and teachers on national pay scales. However, new limitations restrict family dependants for overseas care workers.

Who qualifies for a family visa?

  • Spouses or partners
  • Fiancé(e)s or proposed civil partners
  • Dependent children
  • Parents requiring long-term care
  • Relatives providing long-term care for you

Meeting the requirements:

  • Demonstrate English language proficiency
  • Meet the minimum income threshold (currently £29,000, but will gradually increase to £38,700 by early 2025)

Does the law apply to existing family members in the UK?

No, existing family visa holders are exempt from the higher income threshold.

How does the points-based system work?

To qualify for a skilled worker visa in the UK, you'll need to score at least 70 points. Here's how it works:

50 points: Guaranteed for a job offer meeting the skill level and English language requirements.

Remaining 20 points: Can be earned through higher salary, working in a shortage occupation, or having a relevant PhD.

What jobs on the ‘shortage occupation list’ make it easier to get a visa?

The UK's "shortage occupation list" helps fill crucial jobs by offering easier visas for qualified applicants. These roles typically have lower salary thresholds, making it easier to reach the points needed for a visa.

Examples: Health workers, pharmacists, designers, construction workers, vets.

Does the new income threshold apply to spouse/partner visa extensions?

Yes. However, for extensions and permanent residence applications, both incomes can be combined to meet the minimum. For the initial visa from outside the UK, only the sponsor's income counts. Evidence of income for the past six months is usually required.

Are there alternatives to meeting the income threshold?

Yes. Savings above £16,000 divided by 2.5 can be used. A couple with no income would need £88,500 in savings to meet the threshold entirely through this method. Evidence of having the savings for six months is usually required.

Q: Did the new rule apply for armed forces sponsors?

A: Yes, but only to £23,496, which is the armed forces minimum wage.The income requirement is designed to ensure families are self-sufficient and can be met in a number of ways, including through savings and via income from employment.