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Lib Dems Vow To Fight "Devastating" New Home Office Rules For Family Visas

Home Secretary James Cleverly leaving 10 Downing Street (Alamy)

4 min read

The Liberal Democrats have vowed to fight the government's contentious plan to raise the salary threshold for people wanting to bring spouses to the UK, with the party warning that it is already having "devastating" consequences for "countless" families.

Alistair Carmichael MP, the party's home affairs spokesperson, said on Thursday wedding plans had already been "thrown into disarray" as a result of the new policy, and that people were being forced to consider leaving the UK in order to be with their families.

"Just look at my constituent Matthew, whose wedding plans have been thrown into chaos," he wrote for The House.

"Deepa, his Malaysian fiancée, was due to come to Scotland for their wedding soon — but as a PhD student Matthew’s earnings are nowhere near the new threshold. He has no idea how he and Deepa can be together now, and is considering moving to Malaysia."

He added: "It’s a situation undoubtedly causing anxiety, uncertainty and frustration — and there will be countless Brits facing similar circumstances."

Earlier this month, the Home Office announced that from next spring, people wanting to bring spouses or partners to the UK would need to earn at least £38,700. This is more than double the current threshold of £18,600. 

The change was part of a wider package of new measures brought forward by the government in a bid to significantly reduce legal migration to the UK.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary James Cleverly came under intense pressure from Conservative backbenchers to tighten immigration rules after figures published in late-November showed that net migration had recently reached record highs, driven by a post-Brexit increase in international students and foreign care workers coming to the UK.

Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael (Alamy).

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said net migration in the year up to June 2023 was 672,000, while the figure for the whole of 2022 was revised from 606,000 to 745,000.

However, the significantly higher threshold for people wanting to bring spouses and partners to the UK, which the Lib Dems have dubbed the 'Family Breakup Bill', triggered a backlash and accusations of cruelty — including from some Conservatives.

Lords Garvin Barwell, a former Tory MP who was chief of staff to ex-prime minister Theresa May, said it was “morally wrong and unconservative to say that only the wealthiest can fall in love, marry someone and then bring them to the UK”.

One Conservative MP told PoliticsHome the policy risked making the party look opposed to "love", and said they were particularly concerned about he impact it could have on members of the armed forces who met their partners while serving overseas. 

Sunak has insisted to MPs that the changes to the family visa are "fair". 

The Prime Minister said last week that the Home Office was looking at "transitional arrangements" to ensure that families are not unfairly impacted by the change in policy.

But the Lib Dems are calling on the government to scrap the plan altogether, with Carmichael arguing the prospect of families being seperated, and children being unable to reunite with their parents, "should make us all feel uncomfortable".

"With this one unexpected announcement, countless families who thought they could be reunited in the UK had their hopes dashed, simply because they do not meet an arbitrary salary threshold far above what is actually needed to be self-sufficient," he wrote.

"Many Conservative MPs often talk about the importance of family. They’re right, and that’s why I hope to see them opposing these plans as strongly as we are."

A Lib Dem source told PoliticsHome."We will be fighting in Parliament to stop the Conservative 'Family Breakup Bill' every step of the way. These new rules will lead to weddings being cancelled and families being torn apart.

"We will be looking to build cross-party support among MPs and peers across Parliament to stop these divisive plans in their tracks."

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister has made clear current levels of migration to the UK are far too high. That is why the Government announced a plan to decisively cut net migration and create a system that works for the British people. 

“We have a longstanding principle that anyone bringing dependants to live in the UK must be able to financially support them. The Minimum Income Requirement ensures that families are self-sufficient instead of relying on public funds, with the ability to integrate if they are to play a full part in British life.”

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