Raising income threshold for family visas ‘will not be major player in curbing net migration’

Raising the income threshold for family visas will have a minimal impact on immigration numbers, a Government adviser has said.

Rule changes will not be a “major player in reducing net migration”, according to Professor Brian Bell.

The chairman of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) made the comments after the Government announced a sharp increase from £18,600 to £38,700 in the minimum Britons must earn if they want to bring foreign family members to the UK.

The move came in a bid to curb numbers after the Office for National Statistics revised its net migration figure – the difference between the number of people arriving in the country and leaving – to put 2022 at a record of 745,000.

But the decision has attracted criticism as it threatens to tear UK migrant families apart, with many having their future thrown into doubt as the Government continues to thrash out the details of the policy.

Asked what impact the rules will have on immigration numbers, Prof Bell (pictured) told reporters on Wednesday: “I think it will be quite small, to be honest.”

Meanwhile the Prime Minister told the Commons the Home Office was looking at “transitional arrangements” for changes to family visa earnings thresholds to make sure they are “fair”.

When later pressed for specifics on the new rules by MPs sitting on the Home Affairs Committee, legal migration minister Tom Pursglove said the Government did not want the hike to apply “retrospectively”.

Prof Bell said the number of visas in question is “not that big” and is “dwarfed” by student and skilled worker visas, adding: “So I don’t think in the overall package it will be a major player in reducing net migration.”

Officials believe measures aimed at students will reduce migration levels by around 140,000, changes to social care workers’ visas by 100,000, while the threshold alteration will bring a 50,000 reduction.

Requiring many Britons to have a salary of £38,700 – above the national median gross annual salary of £34,963 – to bring over their foreign spouses is only expected to cut numbers by the low tens of thousands.

Rishi Sunak sought to offer reassurances about the policy after Labour chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee Sir Stephen Timms asked him at Prime Minister’s Questions to provide “transitional help for families” after the “marriage plans of thousands of couples were dashed” in the wake of the “sudden announcement”.

The PM’s official spokesman later said ministers were “looking at that issue right now”.

Downing Street has already rowed back on its position on whether the new minimum income rules will apply when existing visas come up for renewal – initially saying they would but then suggesting just days later that had not been decided.

Mr Pursglove, who was appointed to his Home Office role following immigration minister Robert Jenrick’s resignation last week over the Safety of Rwanda Bill, told MPs the threshold rules were “not being applied retrospectively, but we will come forward with further detail around those announcements as soon as we are able”.

“Applications that are already lodged are treated under the rules as they are now,” he added.

“We are not going about this in a retrospective way.”

Asked if he meant that those already here will be able to renew visas multiple times into the future, he said the Government “would come forward with the detail in a normal way of making an announcement. We do not want to go about this in a retrospective way”.

Prof Bell stressed there was a “social and welfare benefit” of British citizens wanting to bring their partners with them to live in the UK which, he added, “I don’t think should be ignored”.

Speaking as the MAC’s annual report was published, Prof Bell said immigration policy “does not act in isolation”, adding: “Too much of the recent political discussion seems to imagine that policies that reduce net migration are independent of other Government objectives and so can safely be pursued without worrying about anything else.

“But much of the rise in immigration and of net migration in the last few years is a result of policy issues outside of immigration.”

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