The UK’s tough new plans to cut net migration to the country would make it much more difficult for British people living abroad to return with foreign spouses.
They would also make it more difficult for young French people to work in the UK.
It comes as recent figures show that net migration to the UK (those coming minus those leaving) rose to a record 745,000 in 2022 – however net migration from the EU was negative, meaning more EU citizens left than arrived.
If the UK’s Home Office follows through with its proposed plans, in cases where a Briton in the UK, or who has moved back from abroad, wants to bring in a non-UK nationality spouse/partner, the couple will have to demonstrate income of at least £38,700 (€45,000)
Currently this amount is set at £18,600 (€22,000)
Campaigners “devastated” by news
Campaign group British in Europe said it is “devastated” by the news, which effectively bars some British people from returning to live in the UK as they would have to leave their non-British spouses or partners and any non-British children behind.
The group, which urges people to write to their British MPs, estimates that already, only about 40% of British citizens with non-British family members can meet the current requirements.
It said it appeared “no one has told the Home Office that as of January 16, over three million currently disenfranchised UK citizens [abroad] will again be entitled to register to vote in UK national elections”.
The group added: “Ask them who they think will look after our elderly relatives if we cannot move back to the UK with non-UK relatives while other measures will make it harder to recruit desperately needed care workers.”
What is the process to move back with non-UK family?
Pre-Brexit, if a Briton moved to France they could later return to the UK with them without formalities.
Now, the British person would have to move back to the UK and then apply for a family visa, which involves a means test.
Currently this states the couple should show an income of at least £18,600 (€22,000), plus £3,800 for a first dependent non-British child and £2,400 for each one after that.
Usually, the foreign spouse’s own income is not taken into account, unless he or she has already been earning from a job in the UK for at least six months.
Savings, including those of the spouse, can help towards the test if they amount to more than £16,000. A family needs £16,000 plus £2.50 for every £1 that their income is below the threshold.
There is a visa fee for the partner of £1,846, plus the same again for additional dependants.
A person can stay for two years and nine months on this visa, after which they would need to apply to extend the stay, with the same conditions.
On top of the above a ‘health surcharge’ for the foreign spouse is payable for permission to access the NHS (a UK government website states this to be £1,872 for someone coming for two years, nine months).
From five years of residency, it is possible to apply for indefinite leave to remain.
The non-British partner should also show knowledge of English, either with proof of a degree taken in English, or by taking a test and passing at least the basic A1 level.
Measures will also make it harder for French to work in UK
The Home Office’s proposed new income figure will also apply to workers coming to the UK, an increase of almost 50% from the current £26,200.
Already this current figure is known to have sharply reduced the possibility of young French people spending time in the UK working to have an experience of British life and to improve their English language skills. Many previously came to work in lower-income jobs such as bar and waiting work.
A would-be UK employer of a French person must now have been unable to find a person with the same qualifications in the UK and be willing to pay surcharges to employ the foreign worker. The latter must also apply for a work visa costing around £1,000.
A centre that had been helping young French people find work in London since the 1960s closed in 2021, saying its role was no longer viable, as French people can no longer come looking for work on arrival, but must be sponsored by an employer to do a ‘skilled’, sought-after job.
Agencies that used to recruit au pairs to work in the UK also reported post-Brexit that this was no longer possible as they receive board and lodging plus a modest allowance of a few thousand pounds a year.
According to the UK’s Home Secretary the new measures, among others, are necessary because migration “needs to come down”.
There has been talk of possible France-UK deals on easier ‘mobility’ between the countries, including for work, but we are not aware of anything having been signed so far.
Why was migration to the UK so high in 2022?
Oxford University’s Migration Observatory says net migration was unusually high in that year as several factors came together, including the war in Ukraine (the UK has a special scheme for Ukrainians), a UK scheme to accept incomers from Hong Kong, an increase in international student numbers and high demand for workers in health and care.
Even so, its figures show overall net migration to have climbed significantly since 2016’s Brexit vote, apart from a drop related to the Covid crisis.
At the same time, net migration from the EU has dropped, and it was negative in 2022.
The observatory estimates that the net figure to have been around 369,00 year-on-year as of March 2016.