Many British families wishing to move back to the UK with their foreign national partners will be facing a stricter financial requirement as part of family member UK visa applications, with the minimum income requirement increasing from £18,600 to £29,000 on 11 April 2024.

Changes to the rules

On 4 December 2023, the Home Secretary announced the introduction of a ‘five-point plan’, set to introduce several changes to the UK immigration system during 2024.

A significant point in this plan involved the announcement to more than double the annual minimum income threshold for spouse and partner family member visas under Appendix FM of the Immigration Rules from £18,600 to £38,700. This is the first time the income threshold has been increased since its inception in July 2012.

It was later announced that the increases will be staggered, with the first increase to £29,000 on 11 April 2024. The second increase will be to around £34,500 at an unspecified time later in 2024, with the final increase to £38,700 “by early 2025”.

Under the new rules, there will no longer be a separate or enhanced salary requirement for dependent children. This is to ensure that British nationals are not treated less favourably than migrants who are required to meet the General Skilled Worker threshold as a flat rate, regardless of any children being sponsored. Previously, in addition to the minimum income requirement of £18,600, this figure must be increased by £3,800 for a first dependent child and £2,400 thereafter for each additional child, where the child was not a British citizen.

The increase brings the minimum income requirement in line with the new minimum general salary threshold for a Skilled Worker of £38,700. This increase also comes soon after the annual increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge from £604 to £1,035, which took effect on 6 February 2024.

Who will the income increase apply to?

The increase will impact individuals making a UK visa application as a spouse or partner under Appendix FM on and after 11 April 2024. These changes will also affect individuals switching from the ten-year spouse or partner route into the five-year route.

The changes will not apply to those who already have permission as a family member on the five-year route and who wish to extend their permission to remain in the UK. Similarly, individuals who applied for a fiancé visa before the increase and later switch permission to a spouse visa following their marriage will not be affected.

People applying for ‘settlement’ or ‘indefinite leave to remain’ (also known as ‘permanent residence’) as a spouse or partner should also be assessed against the minimum income requirement of £18,600, provided the individual was on the five-year route before 11 April 2024.

Whose income counts towards the £29,000 requirement?

When making the initial visa application from outside the UK as a spouse or partner under Appendix FM, the Immigration Rules still provide that the minimum income requirement can only be satisfied by the sponsor’s (i.e. British citizen or settled person) income.

In addition, the minimum income requirement can only be met by relying on specified sources of income and funding described in the Immigration Rules.

Will there be an increase to the amount of savings needed as an alternative to income?

Under the current Immigration Rules, applicants can seek to rely solely on cash savings of at least £62,500 to meet the income requirement, or use an amount based on cash savings above £16,000 to supplement their gross annual income.

After the increase to the annual minimum income requirement, the figure whereby an applicant can rely on cash savings alone will automatically increase from £62,500 to £88,500, based on the £29,000 figure. As the Immigration Rules are currently drafted, this will increase further with the subsequent planned increases.

Is there any flexibility to meeting the minimum income requirement?

There is scope for the Home Office to exercise flexibility in exceptional circumstances, such as if a visa refusal would breach the applicant’s and sponsor’s human rights. The minimum income requirement does not apply if the sponsor receives Carer’s Allowance or certain disability-related benefits. Instead, the sponsor must demonstrate that they have “adequate maintenance” funds in place.