A couple of years ago the government introduced a minimum income for those wanting to bring over a spouse to live with them in the UK. If you married someone from outside Europe, you needed to be earning £18,600 a year. If they were bringing a child with them it increased to £22,400. Each additional child required an extra £2,400. It didn’t matter how much they earned. They could be – and sometimes were – fabulously wealthy. All that mattered was the income of the Brit.
European citizens living in the UK, it’s worth mentioning, were exempt from the rule, because they are protected by EU law. Even in their own country, Brits have their rights stripped from them by their own government in a way which European citizens do not have to endure. In a cruel ironic twist, many British couples had to go live on the continent for while to gain the European rights they could then bring with them back to the UK.
Today we have some new data on the impact of the policy and it is exactly what you would expect. Who were the losers? Woman, ethnic minorities, people without university degrees, young people and those from outside London. It is the same old story of life under the coalition: well-educated white men in London do well. Everyone else loses.
Oxford University's Migration Observatory found 43% of British employees do not earn enough to be able to bring their wife or husband to live with them. If the partner has a child, 53% don’t reach the threshold. If they have two kids, 58% don't.
It’s relatively rare for men. Just 28% don’t meet the requirement. For women it’s 57%.
As you move across the demographic changes, you can predict easily which way the restriction will fall. Forty-three per cent of white employees don't meet the threshold, while 51% of non-white employees don't. Young people are particularly hard hit. Sixty per cent of people in their 20s don’t earn enough to meet the threshold.
Graduates generally get by. Just 24% of them don’t earn enough to bring a spouse over. The figure is 55% for those with just GCSEs and A-levels. For those without any of those qualifications, it's 76%.
The regional effect is highly predictable. In London, just 30% don’t meet the standard. In Yorkshire and Humberside it’s 49% and in Northern Ireland it's 51%.
The income benchmark was a seminal moment in the history of British immigration policy, because it was the first time it specifically targeted British citizens. It asked low earners who had fallen in love with someone from outside Europe to make a choice: your country or your relationship.