“One of the very unfair things about our current system is, for example, if you want to marry and bring in someone from a country outside of the EU, you have to have a salary of over £18,600…. 47% of the population are not going to earn enough money to be able to bring in a wife or a husband from a country outside of the EU.”
Caroline Lucas MP, 26 April 2018
In July 2012, the government introduced a minimum income requirement for people applying to bring a partner living outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to the UK. That was set at £18,600 a year before tax, and remains at this level today.
This threshold doesn't apply to EEA citizens who want to bring a non-EEA partner to the UK.
If applicants have children, the income required rises by £3,800 for the first child and £2,400 for each child after that. Their partner’s income can sometimes count towards the threshold, if they are already working in the UK on another visa.
£18,600 was chosen following analysis from the Migration Advisory Committee—which advises the government on immigration policy. The government asked it what the income threshold should be to ensure spouses and children brought to the UK wouldn’t become “a burden on the state” financially. As experts at the Migration Observatory explain:
“The £18,600 threshold is the level at which a specific type of family – a single-earner household with no children paying £100 per week in rent – is no longer eligible for tax credits or housing benefit.”
We don’t know the exact number of people who haven’t come to the UK because of the threshold.
47% is an old estimate—it refers to the estimated proportion of British nationals working as employees who earned below £18,600 around the time the threshold was introduced, and was widely reported at the time.
Since earnings have been increasing and the threshold has stayed the same, the proportion of workers earning less has fallen. It was estimated at 43% in 2014 and 41% in 2015, which are the most recent estimates we’ve seen.
This is the percentage of British nationals only. The earnings threshold also applies to non-British nationals who are settled in the UK, or living here with refugee leave or humanitarian protection.
A single, national number for this also doesn’t tell the whole story, because incomes vary a great deal. The Migration Observatory has previously identified that women, ethnic minorities, younger people and people living outside of London and the South East are less likely to be eligible on income grounds.