The cost of finding love in far-flung places

1 August 2019

Increasing immigration costs overall have been in the news again recently. The Independent recently ran an article on the lack of free to use appointments for visa applicants and the Guardian has also reported on the effects of increasing visa fees.

In its recent white paper on proposals for a post-Brexit immigration system, the Government notes that it raises £2.3 billion annually in visa and passport fees.  That is not surprising given the high cost of most visa applications. The Government’s reasoning is that the cost of the immigration system “should be borne by those who use it, to avoid placing undue burden on general taxation.” Given that the country benefits from migration, whether this is fair is at least arguable.

It is also questionable whether it is right to saddle British families with punitively high immigration fees and salary expectations, something we will explore further in this blog. 

Family visa costs

Most family visa applicants are put on a 5 year route to settlement. This means that an applicant (for example the foreign spouse of a British citizen) needs to make 3 separate visa applications over a 5 year period in order to obtain indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK – an entry clearance application, an extension application and an application for ILR after 5 years’ continuous residence in the UK.

Since 2012, there are also now certain family and human rights based applicants who are put on a 10 year route to settlement. These applicants are required to make 5 separate applications before they can obtain ILR, attracting a total cost of over £10,000 over 10 years, including the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), for a single applicant.

In addition to the application fees and IHS, there are also strict financial and maintenance requirements which must be met.

 

How much do families and spouses need to budget for?

The financial requirement can be complex and there are several ways it can be met. We deal with the most usual scenarios below.

Take an example of a British person who has been living and working abroad for a number of years in Brazil. She met the love of her life there. She married that person in Brazil. Her Brazilian spouse happens to be a widower and he has two young children from his first marriage. The family has been living together in Brazil for a few years but the British spouse would now like to move back to the UK with her husband and step-children.

The British spouse may have been working teaching English as a foreign language, for example. The average hourly rate of an English teacher in Brazil is 28 - 60 Brazilian reals an hour. If we take an hourly salary of 44 reals per hour on a 35 hour working week, that is the equivalent annual salary of around £17,108.

 

Financial requirement

Under the immigration rules, the British citizen must show a “combined” income of at least £18,600 per year to sponsor a partner, plus £3,800 for the first child and £2,400 per child for any additional children.

Our family therefore needs to show a combined annual income of £24,800. There are certain limited circumstances in which applicants may be able to avoid the strict financial requirement. However, there is a high and complex threshold to meet in order to be able to avoid the requirement. Applicants should consider taking advice in relation to this before making such an application.

In our scenario, perhaps the Brazilian spouse has a high paid job. Unfortunately, as the couple do not yet live in the UK, only the income of the British partner can be taken into consideration. With our British spouse earning only £17,108 per year this family cannot meet the financial requirement unless they have cash savings. To rely on savings alone, the couple would need to have at least £84,000 in cash savings held for at least 6 months.

Even if our British spouse did meet the requirement with a higher salary, she is also required to show that she has a confirmed offer of salaried or non-salaried employment in the UK starting within 3 months of her return. The income from this UK job offer must also be sufficient to meet the financial requirement i.e. at least £24,800 per year. 

This requirement clearly affects those families living in a country with lower living costs than the UK and thus lower salary levels. It can be an enormous struggle to meet this requirement, often requiring a long period of financial planning.

 

Visa costs over 5 year route to settlement

Let’s say our couple in Brazil have now managed to meet the financial requirement.  Perhaps the British wife has found a new job paying a higher salary and has waited 6 months. In order for our British wife to bring her family to the UK and for them to obtain ILR on the 5 year route to settlement, they are going to need to factor in significant sums for the cost of their applications. As fees are currently, it will cost as follows:

1. First application for entry clearance as the spouse and two dependants of the British citizen

  • £1,523 per person                         £4,569
  • £1200 IHS per person              £3,600
  • Total                                                         £7,569

2. Extension application after the initial 2.5 year spouse and dependant visas

  • £1,033 per person                          £3,099
  • £1000 IHS per person              £3,000
  • Total                                                         £6,099

3. Indefinite leave to remain application after 5 years’ continuous residence in the UK

  • £2,389 per person                         £7,167
  • Total                                                          £7,167

This gives us a grand total over the 5 year period of £20,835 excluding any legal fees. This is a significant amount of money in anyone’s eyes, not least a family of four on an average income.

While there is the possibility of seeking a fee waiver, this is only available in very limited circumstances and our family above almost certainly would not qualify for it.

 

Conclusion

Such high fees are arguably an extra tax on British families relocating to and in the UK. Most families need to meet the financial requirement, the stated purpose of which is to ensure people who come to the UK will not need to rely on benefits. This being the case, families should not also need to pay such high application costs.  The Government’s Immigration White Paper makes no proposals in regards to changes to family migration. As such, post-Brexit, this long, expensive process will also apply to EU nationals. More and more families will be affected by these prohibitive fees. This is an urgent issue which requires redress.

Until changes are enacted however, what should families living abroad be thinking about when considering relocating to the UK?

  • Consider how you are going to meet the financial requirement and how you will evidence this. Know whose income can be relied on, what financial requirements you are going to need to meet, and check what evidence you need to provide in order to show this income.
  • Start saving for the visa fees and consider how you will meet the next round of fees at the extension and ILR stages.

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We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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