Family Migration: Brits lose out when policy is led by blunt targets

The government’s decision to impose an income requirement suggests that the true motivation is simply to reduce numbers, as every British family 'stuck' abroad, or separated, helps to reduce net migration.

Jenny Pennington is a Researcher at IPPR

New research published today lays bare the negative impact of the UK’s management of immigration on British people. The report, from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, shows that the government’s efforts to bear down on immigration numbers through tightening rules on family migration has led to hardship for many.

Examples include British families ‘stuck’ abroad, young British children growing up without a parent and in one case a breast-feeding mother separated from her British baby. According to calculations in the report, as many as 47 per cent of people in employment in the UK would fail to meet the income level needed (£18,600 p/a) to sponsor a non-EEA partner to come to the UK.

The report shows how the government’s target to reduce net migration is dominating policy making in this area. The stated aim of the rules is to ensure that migrants coming through the family route are not a ‘burden’ on the state.

However there are much more direct ways of doing this, for example restricting access to benefits or applying higher visa fees. The government’s decision to impose an income requirement (with entirely predictable consequences) instead suggests that the true motivation is simply to reduce numbers – every British family ‘stuck’ abroad, or separated, helps to reduce net migration.

In response to the research, Mark Reckless, a representative of the Home Affairs Select Committee, was keen to speak to the latter point. Speaking on the Today programme he argued that the limits on family migration are vindicated by their contribution to reducing overall ‘net migration’.

However falling migration doesn’t necessarily reduce public concerns. Polling figures released last week show that even though net migration has fallen by almost 40 per cent across the last year, almost two thirds of the population continue to believe that immigration is still rising

Instead of its single-minded focus on net migration, the government needs to confront the difficult trade-offs that migration policy raises, some of which have been clearly illustrated by today’s report. The government should take action to ensure that family migration contributes to life in the UK.

Rather than an arbitrary income test, the government should focus on ensuring that all family migrants come with a satisfactory level of English to be able to participate in and contribute to society, on making sure that the UK welfare system and labour market are fair for everyone, and on supporting integration in local communities.

The APPG report shows how we all lose when migration policy is led by blunt targets about migration numbers. The consequences of the government’s family migration policy may have been unintended, but they were predictable.

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37 Responses to “Family Migration: Brits lose out when policy is led by blunt targets”

  1. LB

    According to calculations in the report, as many as 47 per cent of people in employment in the UK would fail to meet the income level needed (£18,600 p/a) to sponsor a non-EEA partner to come to the UK.]


    The UK state spends 11.5K a year per person.

    How can you be paying your way and be a benefit to the UK if you only earn 18,600 a year when the average cost to everyone is 23K a year?

    So much for these migrants being a benefit to the UK.

  2. LB

    The government should take action to ensure that family migration contributes to life in the UK.


    Perhaps we should be banning these people from coming to the UK. After all, if you are prepared to migrate leaving your family behind, you must be abusing their human rights.

  3. Sparky

    1. You don’t have to marry a foreigner. Your choice.
    2. You don’t have to live in the UK when married. Your choice.
    3. You don’t have to have children. Your choice.

  4. thehatman

    Go away and study economics for a few days before you make such moronic statements.

  5. thehatman

    4. You don’t have to have any empathy. Your choice.

  6. LB

    It’s simple economics.

    We need migrants who pay more in tax than they cost in government spending.

    We need a simple rule that is fair and that can be applied without any criteria of race or nationality.

    Currently that is not the case.

    There are bad effects of this.

    The main ones are, that people have to subsidize migration. The result on the poor is bad. Their wages are depressed. Lots won’t or can’t compete, so stay on benefits at huge cost to the rest of us, and huge cost to them personally .

    Which bit of economics 101 don’t you get?

    Or come back with some arguments that rather than inane comments.

  7. Sparky

    But other people don’t have to fund my choices.

  8. JC

    I can see that it is a problem if both countries refuse to accept the foreign married partner, but most people marry because they want to spend the rest of their lives with someone, not because they want to live in a particular country. As long as people understand the limitations of marrying someone who is not entitled to live in a particular country, then I see no problem.

    For example, if my wife were not entitled to live in the US, I would not consider moving there. I hope she wouldn’t chose to live in a country where I was not entitled to live.

  9. matt

    Immigration is still rising. The rate of immigration as measured by net migration is falling, There are more immigrants here than there were last year. The public are correct in their perceptions

  10. roggy1

    Yes we do.

    If you choose to drive on the roads, that’s funded from everyone’s road tax.

    If you choose to see a doctor, that’s funded by everyone’s national insurance.

    If you choose to live in a society then your life is funded by other people.

    Unless you are living as a hermit then my taxes are helping pay for your life to be as full as it currently is, and you are welcome. I don’t begrudge it to you at all. So don’t be a d*ck to people who just happened to fall in love with someone from outside the EEA

  11. CausticWally

    Errr – the UK state spends 11.5k per persona year but the average cost to everyone is 23k a year???

    No wonder that nice Mr Gove is so worried about educational standards in the UK!

  12. CausticWally

    Wow! I suppose we could add to this:

    4. You don’t have to exercise freedom of speech. Your choice
    5. You don’t don’t have to have your own opinions and live your life by those standards. Your choice
    6. You can do what those in power tell you to do or you can have your teeth kicked in. Your choice.

    Can you tell us what party you support, so we’ll know not to vote for it…?

  13. CausticWally

    Why would anyone accept so placidly that it is reasonable for a government to prevent the partner of one of its nationals joining them in the country where they have a secure right of residence? Whenever I hear that such a place exists I think ‘You fascist b*****ds’. Why don’t you?

  14. Sparky

    Well, there’s an obvious difference.. I’ve paid into the system; an immigrant has not.

  15. LB

    According to calculations in the report, as many as 47 per cent of people in employment in the UK would fail to meet the income level needed (£18,600 p/a) to sponsor a non-EEA partner to come to the UK.]


    So that is 18,600 pre tax income to support a couple.

    That couple costs 11.5 x 2 = 23K a year.

    How can that couple costing 23K on average, pay 23K in tax, when between then they only earn 18.6K?

    Which bit of mathematics are you having trouble with?

    Probably you received your education pre Gove? 🙂

  16. steven

    The state would spend the 11.5k on the UK citizen anyway – you are also assuming that the spouse doesn’t work, which many do.

    You are also basing policy on a ‘per unit’ like some sort of walking abacus. Should we set a cap on how much treatment people can access on the NHS based on what they earn?

  17. steven

    I ‘chose’ to fall in love with a foreigner, and we are ‘choosing’ to live in the UK near my family as my grandparents are very elderly and my Dad hasn’t been well. We are not asking for any benefits and yet we can’t get a visa until I earn some arbitrary amount even though we earn over $200k per year combined in Australia as the rules don’t allow this to count. The rules are broken. I don’t want you to fund anything for me Sparky – why would want the coin of such a resentful person? I just want to have a family life in the country I was born in.

  18. steven

    So if your wife were from the US you would refuse to live there but expect that she would be able to live in the UK? So you should be against the regulations preventing such a situation.

    I’m sure if your wife were American she would find your flat refusal to move to be with her a token of your undying love.

  19. steven

    Because he is an idiot who hasn’t thought it through.

  20. Sparky

    Exactly. Almost everything we do is a choice. From choices come personal responsibility for the consequences. If you decide not to find a British citizen to marry but to marry a girl from the other side of the world and have children, then be prepared for the inevitable logistical and financial difficulties that will ensue. Furthermore, if you don’t have a pot to piss in, and expect other people to pick up the tab for your wife and kids, don’t be surprised if they object. Choice, consequences, responsibility.

  21. CausticWally

    Nope – still don’t get what you are on about…. Would you mind trying to explain your point again?

  22. CausticWally

    Okay – I understand where you are coming from with this. But why limit your castigation of people of modest means who choice to marry and have children to those who chose partners from abroad? Choice, consequences, responsibility, applies with equal force to Joe Bloggs and his Mrs from Clacton-on-Sea as it does to anyone in a more cosmopolitan relationship.

    Your argument is essentially that people from better off brackets are entitled to refuse any form of solidarity with those lower down the earnings scale and deny them any of the redistribution which is generally considered necessary in society to counter the tendency of markets to produce unbalanced and wayward outcomes. Adam Smith would have recognised your attitude as an example of what he called the ‘vile maximum of the masters – everything for the rich; nothing for the poor!’

  23. Sparky

    I don’t resent you. But this present situation has arisen because of the wholesale abuse of the system under Labour. Sham marriages were completely out of control. Organised criminal gangs were targeting our immigration system. It’s hardly surprising that draconian leglislation was introduced to tackle it.

  24. LB

    On the treatment cap.

    Apart from the irony that the NHS already caps spending, I wouldn’t.

    The reason is quite simple. The NHS is a 2,000 pounds a year insurance scheme. Within any insurance scheme there are those that cost more and those that don’t.

    However, it does raise an interesting point. Should we allow in people who are already ill in the knowledge they will cost the UK a lot of money? Lots on the left argue that those who cost the NHS a lot by drinking, should be charged more. Same logic.

    Yes, I did assume they weren’t working. However, I notice that you tacitly accepted the idea that there should be a criteria based on how much the contribute.

    The 18.6K doesn’t generate enough tax to cover one person. That needs to be over 40K to break even. So yes, you can bring a spouse so long as between you make 80K a year, for as long as you make 80K a year. If you fall in whilst here, you get treatment because you have insurance via the NHS.

    Remember, there is nothing stopping you putting your hand into your pocket and agreeing to make up the difference.

    The difference between me and you, is that I care about people in Britain being poor because low skilled low paid migration has gone on. That has made lots of people poor, and being poor in the UK is not a particularly nice thing. That’s where I do agree with people on the left. Seems you don’t give a shit about that, you would rather get some arts council money (at the poor’s expense), to produce a confessional poetry event.

    Why don’t you ask the poor workers, do they want more money or do they want more migrants to compete against? A bit of democracy woudl be good for the UK.

  25. steven

    The NHS has spending caps but it doesn’t means test or pay out based on contributions – it is a universal system, that’s the point.

    I didn’t tacitly accept anything; I challenged the assumptions inherent in your comments.

    I have nothing but contempt for your allegation that I don’t care about people in Britain being poor. How the hell do you know what I think?

    This is one of the public policy issues in the UK I am most passionate about. I have struggled on a low income and many in my family are low-skilled, low-paid workers. The decline of real wages in this country is a disgrace and it has more to do with the 30 year assault on collective bargaining and trade unionism and the government allowing the minimum wage to stagnate.

    It also has to do with rogue employers and gangmasters who pay illegally low wages to immigrants but about whom the government is doing nothing. The relatively small number of people affected by the draconian spouse visa rules will do nothing to raise wages, it’s just distraction, which you seem to have swallowed hook, line and sinker.

    “Seems you don’t give a shit about that, you would rather get some arts council money (at the poor’s expense), to produce a confessional poetry event.”

    What a pathetic statement. Try arguing against what I’ve said instead of some ridiculous 1980s lefty strawman.

  26. LB

    Supply and demand.

    If you increase supply, but keep demand constant, prices go down. Hence stagnation in wages.

    The supply by pullling in loads of low skilled migrants, via Gang masters, or via Starbucks, or traffic wardens, you can take your pick there are millions has shafted the poor.

    Likewise we have tax.

    Income tax.

    National insurance

    Employer’s NI – tax on jobs – tax on fags – same effect less jobs.

    Council tax


    Road tax

    Petrol tax

    repeat there are lots more

    All take money from the poor and make them poorer and makes it more difficult for them to find work.

    Living wage? How about not taxing those in poverty?

    The point remains. Why pull in more people who are poor, when as you correctly point out this

    I have struggled on a low income and many in my family are low-skilled, low-paid workers.


    So why have more people like this in the UK?

    Why not curtail migration to just those who pay lots of tax?

  27. roggy1

    Perhaps not yet, but give them a chance and the the vast majority will. They just want to start to live here with a loving spouse.

    If your concern is sham marriages, which your reply to Steven above suggests it is, then tackle that with directed legislation. Does this not seem to you to be the sledgehammer to break the nut?

    Steven also raised the very valid point that you decided to sidestep completely: if your concern is recourse to public funds then why not take account of the full picture rather than just one member of the couple’s income?

  28. steven

    You are focussing your anger in the wrong places. Gangmasters often employ people who are illegal immigrants at illegal wage rates – crack down on that, not the relatively small amounts of people who have spouse visas. I fail to see how allowing in wealthy individuals whose wealth will likely be in tax havens advantages low earners. The wealthy people exempted from these rules will probably pay less tax than ordinary people who work.

    The problem is the lack of enforcement of the minimum wage and the lack of adequate bargaining power for working people, that is a far more serious problem than a few more spouses adding to the labour supply. Income tax road tax etc. pay for infrastructure. Have you been to a GP? Do you use roads and public transport? That is why we have them. The real wages of working Britons will not increase by lowering taxes (which always advantages the wealthy) and curbing a few spouse visas and foreign students (who are net contributors to the UK through tuition fees etc. and are now going to the USA and Australia etc. instead due to these rules).

  29. LB

    No I’m not focussing on the wrong problem.

    It’s very simple. No migrants unless you pay more tax than the government spends on you directly or indiectly. That way you are not being subsidised by others.

    This deals with lots of problems.

    1. Low wages. Wages are driven down by two mechanisms. The first is tax, the second is having to compete against migrants (including those employed by scum like gang masters).

    2. The BNP. Most of the support comes from people seeing migrants taking resources. For example, jobs and council houses. At the low wage end, they are quite right. At the high wage end, it is different. Those jobs bring in work, rather than divide it up amongst more people. It’s a win at the top end.


    I fail to see how allowing in wealthy individuals whose wealth will likely be in tax havens advantages low earners.


    Because if you come in, you have to pay more tax than you consume. The difference benefits the poor. If you hide all your income in a tax haven and don’t pay tax, then you can’t come. See the tax test. Simples.


    The problem is the lack of enforcement of the minimum wage and the lack of adequate bargaining power for working people


    Why not start with

    1. Income tax for those on low pay – get rid of it.
    2. National insurance for those on low pay – get rid of it.
    3. Council tax – yet another tax for the poor to pay
    4. VAT – hits all including the poor.
    5. Fuel duty – running a car to get to work because you live in they countryside – you are hit.
    6. IPT – see the car again
    7. VED – see the car again
    8. Employer’s NI -a tax on jobs – like taxes on fags.

    The real wages of the poor will increase if the government stops taxing them. You can’t claim otherwise. If you want to make sure the rich don’t benefit, say from an increase in the tax theshold, you have to change the rate of tax at the same time.

    Students – no problem. Come and study. Make sure you aren’t working, have paid for health insurance and fees. Not one problem with that set up. [What has happened is they have made it difficult because of the past abuses – get student visa – come and work]

    And, if you control low skilled low wage migration, you get a big bang for your buck for the poor.

    Control of migration – down to the state
    Taxation of the poor – down to the state.

    The state can change it all, if it had the will.

    it doesn’t, because its desperate for cash. The real problem.

  30. steven

    “Wages are driven down by two mechanisms. The first is tax.” That is complete BS. Tax is taken out of wage packets but it doesn’t drive down the prevailing wage rates in the labour market. Wages are driven down by a lack of bargaining power by forcing people to bargain individually against employers.

    “5. Fuel duty – running a car to get to work because you live in they countryside – you are hit” Instead of starting with this, why not start with reversing the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, which is going to cause more rural poverty than any fuel duty cut can alleviate?

    Governments can address wage problems by either legislating for higher wages or empowering unions to organise & collectively bargain. Either of these would do far more for low pay than any of your suggestions. Taxes on cars can be looked at, sure, but they are tinkering around the edges of a huge structural problem, as are the spouse visa regulations.

  31. LB

    Re-read please.

    What matters to people, and pushes them in or out of poverty is take home pay.


    Just for emphasis.

    Tax taken out of wage packets makes people poorer. Pure and simple.

    You are correct. Wages are also driven down by a lack of bargaining power.

    The biggest effect here is supply and demand. Even if demand is stable, by increasing the supply, you drive down wages. Collective bargaining won’t work. It can also have bad effects. e.g Preserve the jobs of those in work, and the expense of those out of work. Driving up wages costs will result in a move to automation with a loss of jobs.

    You can legislate for higher wages, but then you have to deal with the consequences.

    1. Prices go up.
    2. Jobs go to low wage areas
    3. Firms go bust because they cannot charge the new prices required to be profitable under the new price regime.
    4. Inputs are preferfed to locally made, because its cheaper.

    Here’s an example. If Tescos are paying low wages, why don’t you and others tip the check out staff a tenner every time you use a till? Spot the problem? If wages go up, you have to pay them. If you tip them you have to pay them. One is overt, you see the effect. The other is hidden in the price. Or you could make them richer by cutting tax, so they take home more money.

    Cut tax for the poor. It is entirely within the government’s control. It doesn’t risk companies going bust. It doesn’t put up prices. It doesn’t offshore anything.

    Taxing people who are poor is immoral.

    So why do you want to tax them and make them poorer?

    The obvious question. Are you making a living off their money?

  32. steven

    Take home pay is increased by higher wages.

    Australia has higher arbitrated wages as well as better bargaining rights for collective agreements, The result? Higher REAL wages. Yes, prices are higher too, but in real terms wages are still higher than in the UK, US and other countries with lower nominal wages, lower prices and lower taxes. The average working person is better off in Australia which according to your neo-classical textbook quotes shouldn’t be the case. PS – in effect I do tip a lot of Tesco workers because my taxes have to subsidise their low wages to stop them falling into poverty. Make Tesco pay more and the benefit bill would fall so you probably have lower taxes as well, it’s a win-win, except for Tesco.

    Real wages declined in countries in the US and UK when unions were smashed and bargaining power reduced. That is the number one factor in the UK’s low wages. The obvious question, why do you not want to increase bargaining power for workers? Are you making a living off them?

  33. steven

    Evidence please?

  34. LB

    PS – in effect I do tip a lot of Tesco workers because my taxes have to subsidise their low wages to stop them falling into poverty.


    its not a tip, its taxes. Stop trying to pretend otherwise.

    Now of that tax going to pay them, 5% of your money has gone in admin charges. Not efficient, If you had the tax, you could pay them directly, cutting out the middle man. However, I expect you will find that lots of people would rather choose to spend money on other things. So you have to force them to do things they don’t want to do.

    If you look at Australia, they are doing two things right that make a difference.

    Top of the list, is migration. They aren’t allowing in low skilled workers. So demand for people to work at the equivalent of Tescos goes up, because there isn’t the supply. That means the prices rises for them, and that means higher wages, and higher prices.

    There is bargaining power. Tescos allows people to join unions. I’m all in favour of people collectively organising. I’ve a libertarian bent, and included in that is the right of free assembly.

    However, the employer’s have a right to ignore.

    Then you have a right to withdraw your labour.

    However, the employer has right then to say, I don’t want to employ you.

    Now you get more bargaining power, if your services are in short supply. Like Australia.

    So curtail low skilled migrants, and you get a rise in wages.

    I’m not making a living off them.

    However you haven’t answered my question to you. Are you employed directly or indirectly by the public sector, or are in in receipt of money from the state. For example, tax credits, child benefits, income support, … I’m interested in whether or not your attitude to cutting the taxes of people in poverty is affected by your receipt of that money.

  35. steven

    For your information, I have always worked in the private sector, at times for very low pay, and for the past few years have worked for private sector unions in Australia. Even so, I reject your assumption that everyone who works in the public sector or is in receipt of tax credits (possibly due to low wages) is some kind of sinister self-interested vampire on poverty. I’m not against tax cuts for those in poverty per se (that’s basically what a tax credit is), but it can only be a small measure in fixing a much bigger problem. You seem to think it is a panacea in itself.

    That’s why I reject your low-tax, little-England libertarianism, because it is simplistic and it wouldn’t deliver the things you claim it would.

    Also, Australia has less low-skilled immigration but it still has quite a lot of immigration and getting a spouse visa is easier there than here (I know, I’ve got one). That is what this was all about in the first place. You think lower taxes and less immigrants would usher it a new Jerusalem for working people and I think it would make next to no difference at all without proper representation in the workplace and support for that from government.

    I’m also interested in why you think raising wages through collective bargaining would force companies to move towards automatism, offshoring etc. to reduce costs but you don’t think this would happen when driving up wages by cutting immigration & reducing supply. Balance sheets don’t care what causes a cost to rise.

  36. LB

    ven so, I reject your assumption that everyone who works in the public sector or is in receipt of tax credits (possibly due to low wages) is some kind of sinister self-interested vampire on poverty


    Never said that.

    I said everyone, low paid or rich, in the public sector gets all of their money from the private sector. Even the money they pay in taxes, comes from the private sector.

    I’m asking for tax cuts, not tax credits. The reason is the DWP take 5% of all money they administer in charges. Far worse than any rip off pension. Lets cut them out of the loop.

    I don’t think less immigration will be a panacea. I’m still in favour of immigration. You’ve not be reading what I’ve been writting.

    I’m not in favour of low skilled migration, because of the results on you and your relatives.

    I’m in favour of low tax. It cuts out lots of waste and gives people a choice. If the poor want 5 a day coordinators, they can of course pay for them. However, its clear, they would rather spend their money on other things. They should be allowed to do so.

    Rising wage costs either result in offshoring, or in automation for certain jobs. For some jobs its hard.

    For example, we do now have people going off shore for medical treatment, because the costs are too high here. Dental treatment for example. However in general its hard. Likewise for restaurants. However, you have automation in the drinks industry with vending machines. Why? Labour costs are too high.

    If you look at France and Germany, there are huge pressures to automate, because of high labour costs.

    So why not follow the Australian route if its such a nirvana? The only difference I would make is not to have a points based system. That relies on civil servants making up a system, and they are the ones that have run up a 7 trillion debt.

    Instead, use the tax system. You get a bond to say you will pay more than 11.5K a year in tax, for each year in advance. Then at the end of the year, your tax return is checked. Above 11.5K, a thank you. [Would be nice for the rest of us]. If not the bond is called, and the government gets the difference, and you have 3 months to leave.

    Cutting immigration results in more jobs for people on welfare. So they get jobs. That pushes down state spending. That can be used to abolish employer’s NI. End result, wage costs for companies can be kept the same or reduced, resulting in more jobs not less.

    Here’s a thought experiment for you. Why not force all companies to pay 10 times what they do now? Any effects? Why stop at small increases as you say, why not go for big ones and get more of the benefits you claim?

  37. Seanino

    Do you want to keep out non-EEA immigrants or foreigners in general, because EU citizens who move here are far more numerous and haven’t paid into the system either.

    Those EU citizens living in Britain are not subject to this law and can bring in spouses from anywhere, which puts Brits at a disadvantage in their own country.

    If you want to see how absurd and cruel this is in practice, read the APPG report

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