Couples `devastated` by migration visa rule changes

Scientists Josie and Joan Ferrer Obiol says their dream of returning to the UK has been turned upside down

Couples planning a new life in the UK have been left heartbroken by changes restricting who can apply to live here.

From April 2024, British citizens or people already settled in the UK will need to show they earn £38,700 before their overseas partner can live here with them - a sharp jump from the current threshold of £18,600.

They also still need to show they are in a marriage or civil partnership when they apply for a family visa, intend to be within six months, or that they have been living together for at least two years.

Ministers say the increased income threshold will help cut immigration levels, which have reached record highs in recent years, and ensure families can support themselves.

Lee, 24, from Belfast, told BBC News: `This policy means that the girl I want to marry, the girl I love...I cannot live with her and it`s destroyed me.`

He had planned to propose to his girlfriend Sarah, who lives in Malaysia, in the coming months. They met in Leeds three years ago, where he was studying engineering and she was studying law.

Lee was planning to pop the question in February next year

The couple were planning a new chapter together in the UK, but Lee said their plans for a family life are `basically destroyed by this`.

Lee earns £26,000 as a researcher in Belfast, and said his chances of earning much more than that at his age and experience level are remote.

He continued: `I just hate this, all this planning we`ve had and it`s just now all crashing down. Now basically if I want to be with someone I love, I can`t be in this country anymore.

`My mind has kind of went everywhere, to some very dark places I`ll be honest.`

British citizen Josie lives with her Italian husband in Ancona, Italy. The couple - both scientists - married in December 2020 and were planning on moving to the UK to settle.

But Josie said the prospect of earning £38,700 as a lab assistant at a British university is highly unlikely, with going-rate salaries routinely below that level.

Asked what her family`s plan was now, the 33-year-old said: `I don`t know, not come back? That would break my mum`s heart. I don`t know, I really don`t know.

`Basically it`s forcing us into a position that will make it very, very difficult - if not impossible - to come to the UK.`

Josie says the new threshold is a `crazy` amount

Cam, 28, told the BBC how he is already looking for a new home in London where his American wife can come and join him after four years of long-distance relationship.

They were planning to apply for a family visa in March, by which time Cam would have been in his new job long enough to show he has a stable income - but with the new threshold due to come into force from April, they are facing uncertainty over whether their application will make it through in time.

He told BBC News: `There`s a huge amount of anxiety. This is going to cause a lot of hurt and pain to a lot of people.`

On Tuesday, Rishi Sunak`s spokesman said the new minimum threshold could be disapplied in `exceptional circumstances where there would be unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant, their partner, a relevant child or another family member`.

Personal savings and benefits can also be taken into consideration when applicants have to demonstrate how they would be able to support their family, No 10 said.

The government argues the new £38,700 threshold - which is also being introduced as a minimum salary for many migrants seeking work visas - brings it into line with average earnings.

According to the Office of National Statistics, median gross annual earnings for full-time employees in the UK were £34,963 in April 2023.

The change to family visas is expected by the government to reduce net migration by 10,000 a year. Family visas accounted for a net migration of 39,000 in the 12 months up to June 2023.

Overall net migration for the same period was 672,000, a number the government is trying to cut by 300,000 with its wider reforms to legal immigration.

Dr Madeleine Sumption, director of the University of Oxford-based Migration Observatory, said the change will disproportionately hit those who are already less likely to be on higher wages.

She said: `The largest impacts will fall on lower income British citizens, and particularly women and younger people who tend to earn lower wages.

`The income threshold will also affect people more if they live outside of London and the South East, in areas of the country where earnings are lower.`

One of them is Katie, a 25-year-old supermarket worker from Lincoln, who was `crying all night` when the change was announced.

Katie and Quinlan will at least be reunited over Christmas - just are unsure what the future holds

In 2020, she met Quinlan, from Indiana, US, on an online dating app. The pair got married in July 2023 and plans were under way for him to relocate to the UK.

As a supermarket worker, Katie earns £19,000 a year, including overtime pay - less than half of the new salary threshold.

She told the BBC: `Everything we were planning for ages has just gone down the drain. We finally are stable enough to start doing more hours to get the amount needed and then it practically jumps up by 50%.`

The couple`s next steps are not certain. She continued: `To stay here or go there. We shouldn`t have to choose something like this. It`s cruel.`

Ruby and Furkan are in a similar position. When they met on holiday in Turkey in the summer of 2021, she thought it was `a holiday romance - I didn`t expect anything more to come of it`.

Fast forward two-and-a-half years and the pair are newly married, but forced to live apart.

The 31-year-old from Plymouth was self-employed, but decided she would stand a better chance of demonstrating she had a steady income to support her husband`s visa application by taking a job as a veterinary receptionist, and now earns £23,000 a year.

But the changes announced this week have upended their plans completely, and they are still digesting what it means.

Ruby said: `I woke up this morning and saw the news posted on Facebook. I was devastated. I thought that surely there is no way they have hiked it up that amount.`

Starting to cry, she told the BBC: `I can`t believe I have revolved my life around this and then they change the rules after 11 years. Now I just have to hope we can be approved before April.

`If that doesn`t happen, there is no option but for me to move to Turkey. That is not the end of the world as it is a beautiful country but I would like it to be my decision, not Rishi Sunak`s.`

South Africa is first African country added to Saudi Arabia’s e-visa

A Saudi man checks the flight timings at the King Khalid International Airport, after Saudi authorities lifted the travel ban on its citizens after fourteen months due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, May 16, 2021. 

South Africa has become the first African country that Saudi Arabia has added to its e-visa system. This simplifies the process for South Africans seeking e-visas for travel to Saudi Arabia.

South Africa’s Tourism Minister Patricia de Lille welcomed the development, saying that it will make it easier for South Africans to visit Saudi Arabia for tourism and business purposes.

“I am extremely pleased with this development as South Africa also became the first African country to be added to the list,” De Lille said.

Saudi Arabian Airlines’ direct flights between Jeddah and Johannesburg have also resumed, a move that is expected to boost tourism between the two countries.

De Lille said that the resumption of the flights is a sign of the strong relationship between South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

The introduction of e-visas and the resumption of direct flights are expected to lead to a significant increase in the number of visitors to Saudi Arabia from South Africa.

Latest updates in global immigration

This week, the Global Immigration team at Smith Stone Walters would like to highlight the following recent updates from Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.

Australia: Start date set for permanent residence changes

The Department of Home Affairs has set a start date of 25 November 2023 (subject to the approval of regulation changes) for its previously announced changes to the employer-sponsored permanent residence programme.

From that date, all Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) (subclass 482) visa holders will be able to access permanent residence via the Temporary Residence Transition (TRT) stream of the Employer Nominated Scheme (ENS) (subclass 186) visa.

• Changes to the TSS visa will apply to new applications lodged on or after 25 November 2023.

• Changes to the Temporary Residence Transition (TRT) stream nomination requirements will apply to new ENS/RSMS nomination applications and applications that are yet to be finally determined as of 25 November 2023.

• 482 visa holders will be eligible regardless of whether they are sponsored in an occupation on the Short-term (STSOL), Long-term (MLTSSL) or Regional Occupation List (ROL).

• The eligibility period of employment on a TSS 482 visa has been also reduced from 3 years to 2 years of employment with the most recently approved sponsor.

• Changes will also be made to age exemptions for regional medical practitioner and high-income earning applicants aged 45 years and over to allow for a two-year pathway instead of the current three-year requirement.

• The limits on the number of short-term stream TSS applications visa holders can make in Australia will be removed. Applicants who want to submit a third or more short-term stream TSS visa can do so without having to depart Australia.

• Nominated occupations will no longer be assessed against skilled migration occupation lists.

• The nominated occupation will need to be listed in the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) and the nominated worker will need to continue to work in the occupation nominated for their TSS visa(s).

• The period in which TSS visa holders are required to have worked in a position with their sponsoring employer (or in the occupation for medical practitioners and certain executives) will be reduced to 2 out of the 3 years before nomination.

• The RSMS visa will continue to be restricted to transitional 457 workers and transitional 482 workers.

Denmark: Extension of Residence for Refugees from Ukraine

The government has decided that residence permits issued for people displaced from Ukraine can be extended until 17 March 2025.

The Immigration Service will automatically assess whether a residence permit under the Special Act can be extended. If the holder still complies with the requirements laid down in their current residence permit, the residence permit will be automatically extended.

When the Immigration Service has processed a case, and the residence permit has been extended, the holder will receive a new residence card by mail and does not have to have their biometric features recorded for the new residence card.

The Immigration Service will process the case before a current residence permit under the Special Act expires and expects to complete the processing of all cases before 17 March 2024.

Hong Kong: Talent Engage office opens

The Hong Kong Talent Engage (HKTE) office opened in Hong Kong on 30 October 2023.  Following the launch of the Hong Kong Talent Engage (HKTE) online platform last year, the physical office will provide support for incoming talents and follow up with their development and needs after arrival.

The office will also partner with different organizations as well as the Dedicated Teams for Attracting Businesses & Talents under the Government’s Mainland and overseas offices, to get the needed information and services for the incoming talent.

In 2024, the government will organize a “Global Talent Summit cum Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area High-quality Talent Development Conference” to promote regional exchange and co-operation in talent attraction.

Israel: Measures during the security crisis

On 29 October 2023, the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) announced that all non-work visas due to expire within the next three months are extended until 8 February 2024.  After this period, if there is no further notice, visa extension must be carried out as per the usual procedures.

The work visa extension process at the Interior Ministry for expiring B-1 expert work visas is currently not operating as usual. Instead, the Ministry is acknowledging the submission of extension applications and automatically extending the visas for one month at a time.

On 30 October 2023, PIBA announced a three-month extension of the work permits of all foreign nationals in the domestic nursing and agriculture sectors who are in Israel and whose work permit has expired or will expire between the dates 7 October 2023 and 7 January 2024.

On 1 November 2023, the government announced a further series of measures to recruit foreign national workers in the agriculture sector, which is currently experiencing a manpower crisis.  These include allowing the immediate entry of 5000 foreign nationals to work in the sector, including foreign nationals who previously stayed in Israel in recognized agricultural training programs, who will be recruited by licensed private agricultural bureaus, not within the framework of bilateral agreements.  Ministers also announced the implementation of existing bilateral agreements and the extension of a fast-track process to more countries of origin.

Approximately 7800 foreign agricultural workers have left Israel, out of approximately 30,000 foreign agricultural workers who worked in Israel before the fighting began. In addition, during this period it was decided not to allow the entry into Israel approximately 20,000 Palestinian workers in the agricultural sector.

Netherlands: Further restriction of the 30% ruling

On 27 October 2023, the Dutch House of Representatives passed two amendments to the 2024 Tax Plan which, if approved by the Senate, will further scale back the so-called “30% ruling”.

Currently, eligible highly skilled foreign workers are not required to pay tax on up to 30% of their income for five years (reduced from eight years in 2019). This is justified as a reimbursement for costs incurred in moving to the Netherlands form abroad. From 1 January 2024, this reimbursement can only be up to a maximum of EUR 233,000.

It is also permitted for employers to reimburse the actual moving costs of the employee, instead of using the 30% facility.

The first amendment requires that, effective 1 January 2024, the 30% ruling for new applications can only be applied to a maximum of 30% of the taxable salary for the first 20 months. In the following 20 months, the rule can be applied up to a maximum of 20% of the taxable wage. The following 20 months only up to a maximum of 10% of taxable wages. After 60 months, the maximum duration of the 30% ruling has expired.

Transitionally, foreign employees already using the 30% ruling before 1 January 2024 will not be subject to the reduction.

The second amendment regulates the abolition of partial foreigner taxpayer status by 2025.  Currently, foreign workers who are resident in the Netherlands and use the 30%-ruling can select partial foreign taxpayer status in their income tax return so that, for the purposes of Box 2 and Box 3, they are considered foreign taxpayers despite being resident in the Netherlands.

Transitionally, foreign national residents who already use this facility before 1 January 2024 can continue to use the partial foreign tax liability until 2026 at the latest.

Sweden: New maintenance requirement takes effect

As previously announced, effective 1 November 2023, the maintenance requirement for foreign national workers has increased from SEK 13,000 to SEK 27,360, which is 80% of the current median salary in Sweden. The monthly salary must also be in line with collective agreements or practices in the relevant profession or industry.

• If someone has been granted a work permit before 1 November 2023, the previous maintenance requirement still applies for the remainder of the permit’s validity. If the holder applies for an extension, however they will need to meet the new maintenance requirement.

• The new requirement does not apply to permits granted on the basis of protection, close family ties, or studies, nor to those covered by the Temporary Protection Directive or the Upper Secondary School Act. EU/EEA citizens, permanent residents and long-term residents who exercise their freedom of movement are also unaffected.

• Professional coaches and athletes, au pairs, trainees within the framework of international exchange or trainees with traineeships related to higher education, and researchers will not be subject to the new requirement.

• People who possess or are applying for an EU Blue Card or ICT permit, as well as seasonal workers, are also unaffected.

• The occupational areas that will be most affected by the higher maintenance requirement are service, care, sales, agriculture, gardening, forestry, berry picking, fishing, and occupations that demand a shorter education or introduction. As a rule, the salary earned by employees in these groups falls below the new maintenance requirement.

Switzerland: Special status for Ukrainian refugees to continue

On 1 November 2023, the Federal Council decided not to lift the protection status S for Ukrainian refugees before 4 March 2025, unless the situation changes fundamentally before then.  For the first time, it has also defined a target for labour market integration: By the end of 2024, 40 per cent of persons capable of employment with protection status S should be in work. The currently level is about 20%.

Protection status S has been granted to Ukrainian refugees since 12 March 2022. The specific support measures for people with protection status S (Programme S), which were first adopted on 13 April 2022 and extended on 9 November 2022, will also be extended until 4 March 2025. The Swiss federal government contributes CHF 3000 per person per year to these measures, in particular for language courses, which is paid to the cantons in stages.

United States: 180-day extension of Employment Authorization for certain renewal applicants

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that, effective 27 October 2023, eligible renewal applicants who have filed Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, qualify for an automatic 180-day extension of their expiring employment authorization and/or employment authorization documents (EADs) while their renewal application is pending.  This includes those who have applied for or have received Temporary Protected Status or asylum.

In May 2022, USCIS announced a temporary final rule (TFR) that increased the automatic extension period for EADs available to certain EAD renewal applicants from up to 180 days to up to 540 days. The latest change is not retroactive; all previous up to 540-day automatic extensions will remain in place.

USCIS is in the process of determining whether there is a need for a new regulatory action similar to the May 2022 TFR.

As announced in the May 2022 TFR, automatic extensions of employment authorization and EAD validity will be the original up to 180-day period for those eligible applicants who timely file a Form I-765 renewal applications on or after 27 October 2023.

For individuals who received an increased automatic extension period under the TFR, the increased automatic extension will end when they receive a final decision on their renewal application or when the up to 540-day period expires (counted from the expiration date of the employment authorization and/or their EAD), whichever comes earlier.

Meanwhile, USCIS recently published a Policy Manual update increasing the maximum EAD validity period to five years for initial and renewal applications approved on or after 27 September 2023, for the following categories:

• Certain noncitizens who are employment authorized incident to status or circumstance, including those admitted as refugees, paroled as refugees, granted asylum, and recipients of withholding of removal; and

• Certain noncitizens who must apply for employment authorization, including applicants for asylum and withholding of removal, adjustment of status, and suspension of deportation or cancellation of removal.

New Form I-9:

Effective 1 November 2023, all employers must use a new Form I-9. The revised version of the form was published on 1 August 2023 by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The revised Form I-9:

• Reduces Sections 1 and 2 to a single-sided sheet;

• Is designed to be a fillable form on tablets and mobile devices;

• Moves the Section 1 Preparer/Translator Certification area to a separate, standalone supplement that employers can provide to employees when necessary;

• Moves Section 3, Reverification and Rehire, to a standalone supplement that employers can print if or when rehire occurs or reverification is required;

• Revises the Lists of Acceptable Documents page to include some acceptable receipts as well as guidance and links to information on automatic extensions of employment authorization documentation;

• Reduces Form instructions from 15 pages to 8 pages; and

• Includes a checkbox allowing employers to indicate they examined Form I-9 documentation remotely under a DHS-authorized alternative procedure rather than via physical examination (see below).

Home affairs boss Pezzullo sacked after leaked texts

Mike Pezzullo has been sacked as head of the home affairs department after a code of conduct breach finding.

Mr Pezzullo was stood down after leaked messages revealed the secretary repeatedly inserted himself into the political process.

The governor-general in council terminated his appointment on Monday.

The texts revealed he lobbied for his department and pushed his personal views, in breach of public service standards, across a five-year period.

It is not suggested the messages show corrupt or illegal conduct.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O`Neil referred the matter to the Australian Public Service Commissioner after concerns were raised following media reporting of the messages.

Lynelle Briggs, who headed the inquiry, found he breached the code of conduct on at least 14 occasions in relation to five overarching allegations.

The allegations included that he used his duty, power, status or authority to seek to benefit or advantage himself, engaged in gossip and disrespectful critique of ministers, failed to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive government information, failed to act apolitically and failed to disclose a conflict of interest.

Ms O`Neil told parliament the move to sack Mr Pezzullo showed the government had a `profound respect` for the integrity of the public service.

`We value proper process, we value the integrity of the Australian public service - indeed we insist on it,` she said.

Lynelle Briggs found Mr Pezzullo breached the code of conduct on at least 14 occasions. 

The Community and Public Sector Union welcomed the decision to sack Mr Pezzullo.

CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly said his position was untenable with his reported conduct going against impartiality principles.

`The termination of Michael Pezzullo as secretary of the Department of Home Affairs is an appropriate and necessary step,` she said.

The public service code of conduct needed to apply at all levels of employment, from graduates to middle management and department heads, she said.