Following our previous article, which detailed the impact of Covid-19 on UK immigration and the governments’ temporary changes to the rules, to assist those who were here on temporary visas (please see the article here), the Government has now published a guide for those who are applying for settlement visas or extensions and are struggling with meeting the income threshold.
Normal UK Spouse Income Threshold Rules:
As you may be aware, since 2012 the UK immigration rules impose an income threshold of £18,600 for UK Spouse Visas. Normally an applicant will need to show that they have a combined income of this amount and have had an income of this level for either six or twelve months prior to making the application, see the full details on using employment income here, alternatively, one could rely on Self Employment Income for the last 12 months – see article here.
The Covid-19 problem:
One major impact of Covid-19 has been the resulting lockdowns, through which governments have tried to control the spread of the epidemic, but have resulted in large scale economic slowdowns and the risk of unemployment for many.
In the UK the government response has been to pay 80% of people’s salary through the Furlough Scheme (the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme), which was designed to support employers in retaining their workforce and prevent mass unemployment.
What has been unclear until now is what the Home Office’s approach would be if someone is furloughed or loses their job temporarily (for example is on unpaid leave due to Covid-19 but does not qualify under the job retention scheme), leading to that person earning below the income threshold.
John, a British citizen, is married to Emily, an American citizen, who was due to apply for a Spouse Visa so that she can join her husband in the UK. John has been a restaurant manager for the last two years earning £20,000PA, but since the government lockdown on the 23rd of March, he has been put on to the furlough scheme and has been receiving a salary of 80% of his normal wage, which equates to £16,000PA.
The restaurant has recently reopened and he is back on his usual salary, but until now it has been unclear whether the Home Office would look at his last six months salary, in which case he would not meet the financial requirement as he has been earning under the income threshold.
Government’s Covid-19 solution:
On the 17th of July 2020, the government published new family visa guidance, in which they have directed that all Home Office staff handling cases which have been impacted by the Covid-19 epidemic, and as a result aren’t meeting the income requirement, should apply certain concessions. This is to implement the government’s promise to ensure that applicants are not disadvantaged as a result of the current circumstances, which are beyond their control, because of Covid-19.
This concession applies only where there is evidence of temporary loss of income for the period from the 1st of March 2020 and the 31st of July 2020. The concession includes directions that:
- Caseworkers should disregard the temporary loss of employment income, eg unpaid leave, for the relevant period, provided that in the six months prior to that the applicant was meeting the income threshold.
- Caseworkers should assume 100% earnings of salary for applicants or their sponsors who were on the furlough scheme.
- Caseworkers should disregard temporary losses of annual income for self-employed applicants or sponsors for the relevant period.
- Caseworkers should be more flexible with evidential requirements where the applicant or their spouse have difficulty accessing evidence due to Covid-19 eg. bank statements where you are usually required to submit stamped documents.
In our example above, John therefore would be able to apply and would meet the income requirement under this concession, given that he met the income requirement prior to Covid-19.
Government Continued Response to COVID 19
This update has been a long time coming, and is better late than never, as it will bring clarity to a lot of people who were about to apply for Spouse Visas or extensions. As an immigration solicitor, I am glad to note that the government has started implementing sensible measures to minimise the backlog that has been building up due to the visa and biometric enrolment centres being closed in the UK.
The Home Office has now started reusing biometric information for applicants who had previously applied, removing the need to attend another appointment, which will save time and money for those applying for extensions. The visa centres in other countries have also now started reopening.
Call for more clarity:
It should be noted that this concession only applies up until the end of July, which coincides with the date for the other temporary visa concessions (link), and the question still remains of what happens to those persons who were here on a temporary visa, eg a Visitor Visa, and are still unable to travel back to their home countries due to airline closures.
At the moment the only option for those people is to apply for a visa under discretional leave, which unfortunately would force them to pay an application fee of £1,033, and the immigration health surcharge of £1,000, simply for their visa to be extended for a few months. The government would be better to extend the concessions to allow people to apply on a case to case basis for an extension to their existing visas.