The minimum income threshold of £18,600 for sponsoring a partner under the family immigration rules ensures that couples who wish to establish their family life in the UK can stand on their own feet financially. The requirement prevents burdens on the taxpayer and promotes integration. It has been upheld by the Court of Appeal and is helping to restore public confidence in the immigration system.
The Minister has just asserted that the purpose of the minimum income threshold is to ensure that a spouse from overseas who comes to live here is not a burden on the taxpayer. However, at £18,600, the threshold is more than £3,000 higher than the living wage. Does he not think that it should be reviewed to ensure that the original purpose of the minimum income threshold is what counts and that it does not discriminate against those on the living wage or below, or against people who happen to live in the wrong part of the country?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the income threshold was set on the basis of advice given to the Government by the Migration Advisory Committee, which considered this issue in great detail to assess the appropriate level. Perhaps he will find interesting the fact that the 2014 annual survey of hours and earnings for the Office for National Statistics showed that median earnings of those in full-time employment were appreciably higher than £18,600 in all parts of the UK.
In practice, the length of time in which a sponsor is required to demonstrate that they have met the minimum income threshold is driving families apart. Would it be sufficient for a sponsor to demonstrate that they have secured permanent employment on such a salary, and not have a situation where several months have to pass with someone providing bank statements to show their income, during which time their partner is separated from them?
Migrant partners with an appropriate job offer can apply to come to the UK under tier 2 of the points-based system, and those using the family route to come to the UK must be capable of being independently supported by their sponsor, their joint savings, or non-employment income. We have considered the issue in an appropriate way to ensure that people are not a burden on the taxpayer, and I underline again that the system has been tested and upheld in the courts.
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt be aware that the minimum age for spouse visa applicants and sponsors was increased to 21 in 2008, and the Government defended that position. The Supreme Court found in 2011 that although the Secretary of State was pursuing a legitimate and rational aim in seeking to address the problem of forced marriages —the hon. Gentleman will know that such issues exist—increasing the minimum marriage visa age from 18 to 21 disproportionately interfered with the right to a family life under article 8 of the European convention of human rights. We keep such issues under close review, but they are complex.
Will the Minister think again about this whole policy? It is cruel on children who are denied the right to live with their parents, contrary to the principles of the conventions on human rights, and really not necessary. Its only effect is that of hurting the very people who should not be hurt because of it.
While ensuring sufficient resources so that those arriving are supported at reasonable levels, the minimum income threshold is also intended to ensure that family migrants can participate sufficiently in every-day life to facilitate their integration into British society. That is one of the fundamental purposes of the policy, and I think that is right.