LONDON: The British government’s annou­ncement of new rules to slash migration numbers have triggered panic within South Asian families, who are now forced to change their plans before the new regulations are implemented in spring 2024.

A 25-year-old British Pakistani law professional based in the UK told Dawn on condition of anonymity “we are all panicking” as the new threshold set by the government for a UK-based individual to earn in order to sponsor family has gone up from £18,600 to £38,700.

“Starting salaries here in the UK are between £22,000 and £26,000 a year,” he said. “I am making around £21,000 which was just over the previous threshold [£18,600]. Now, all of a sudden it has jumped. I cannot earn £38,600 overnight. I was planning on getting married to a Pakistani girl in the summer of 2024 and all my family’s tickets, venues, etc. are booked. Now I have to dig into my savings, and rush the process so that before the rules are implemented I bring my spouse over.”

He said many of his friends are “panicking as they are engaged and soon to be married” to a Pakistani national. “They don’t know how to process this change and are seriously distressed.”

Income threshold for sponsor more than doubled to reach £38,700

A 25-year-old British Sri Lankan woman told Dawn she would have to delay her wedding in Sri Lanka. “I got engaged last year and intended that we will marry there next year and he will come back with me. My family members are all shocked. Even if we get married there, I can’t sponsor him as I don’t earn enough to meet the cut-off. It’s not a reasonable increase, it’s double,” she said.

“I’m forced to put the wedding on hold. You know how it is in Asian families, as age increases and women don’t marry, people talk,” she added.

The government’s new rules are the latest in a spate of changes to immigration rules and fees. In July 2023, the British government announced a 15 per cent increase in the cost of most work and visit visas, and an increase of at least 20pc in the cost of priority visas, study visas and certificates of sponsorship.

Dr Madeleine Sumption, the director of the Migration Observatory at Oxford University, said the home secretary’s decision to raise the family income threshold to £38,700 could have the most significant impacts on individuals. “The largest impacts will fall on lower-income British citizens, and particularly women and younger people who tend to earn lower wages.”

Free Movement.org describes it as a “very dark day for many families who will be unable to meet the more than doubled new minimum income requirement and health and care wor­kers who will be expected to come to the UK without the ability to bring their family members”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has also warned new visa rules will have a “negative impact” on family relationships. Justin Welby said the government was “rightly concerned” with cutting migration. But he said higher income requirements would see many families unable to live together.

Barrister Rashid Ahmed told Dawn, “These changes are ridiculous and people are considering challenging them in court. Charities and Asian organisations are ringing me to ask what they can do as they are shocked.”

Barrister Rida Fawad pointed out that those who wanted to sponsor a spouse and children have to pay even more. “People are losing hope to some extent. There is no clear deadline, but those sponsoring families will have to show income in excess of £38,700 to meet the requirements. Some fear they will have to go back. Others are wondering if there will be a legal challenge. Overall, it’s a very depressing situation for everybody.”

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2023

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