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Today, the Migration Observatory at Oxford University has published a report analysing the implications of the current Minimum Income Rule that British Citizens need to meet to be able to sponsor a family visa for their spouse. Currently, that minimum income level is £18,600 per annum, which increases if the citizen is also wanting to bring in children. The Coalition Government introduced this policy in 2012 as part of its plan to reduce net migration.

It is a contentious policy. Next month, for example, the Supreme Court will announce its decision on whether these rules are lawful, following a previous challenge against the Home Office which was rejected by the Court of Appeal.

Bright Blue has argued that this minimum income rule needs to be revisited. It is right that Government seeks to control the number of immigrants and to ensure that new migrants are not burdensome on public finances. But our view is that the current minimum income level does not reflect the contribution a British citizen has made, and indeed what the non-resident spouse could make, to Britain’s finances.

The report from the Migration Observatory reinforces this. The Migration Advisory Committee initially recommended £18,600 to the government as the point in which people do not become “a burden on the state”. But the Migration Observatory’s report shows that:

  1. The calculation from MAC is based on a specific family type – a single earner household with no children paying £100 in rent – no longer becoming eligible for tax credits or housing benefit. In other words, other families may lose their benefit eligibility at different income levels.
  2. The calculation from MAC is based only when a household does not become eligible for certain benefits. It does not take into account tax contributions net of benefit entitlements. In other words, households may be receiving benefits, but they still might be contributing more overall to the system because of the tax they pay.
  3. The calculation from MAC does not take into account what the non-EEA partner could earn in the UK. The evidence suggests that those who do come and live in Britain earn a reasonable amount. In other words, the presence of the partner could mean that that household is more likely to be a net contributor than consumer. Indeed, recent research by Middlesex University shows that the minimum income threshold is likely to be leading to losses in government revenue of nearly £850 million over 10 years, thanks to an estimated 17,800 spouses being denied entry to the UK each year and thus not working and paying taxes here.
  4. The calculation from MAC does not take into account the household’s consumption of public services. This obviously varies from family to family. In other words, it is impossible to determine a single income level at which an individual is a net consumer or contributor.

In light of this, we believe a richer definition of ‘contribution‘ should be employed. A citizen should be allowed to sponsor their spouse if they meet the minimum income rule, or have been paying income tax for the past 30 months.

Ryan Shorthouse is Director of Bright Blue.