Immigration Minister Mark Harper
said the changes the Government
have made to UK immigration
policy are 'a very reasonable
position to take'.
Mark Harper, the recently appointed immigration minister, has defended the Government's changes to UK visa and immigration policy as beneficial to the taxpayer.
The coalition Government has made sweeping changes to UK visa and immigration policy in recent months in line with the Conservative Party's pre-election pledge to bring down net migration from levels of approximately 250,000 to the 'tens of thousands' by the next election.
Changes include introducing a salary threshold at which an applicant must earn in order to bring a partner to the UK, the removal of post study work rights for international students and visa caps on certain routes.
Debate over the changes' effectiveness and fairness has rarely abated since their introductions earleir this year but Mr Harper, who succeeded Damien Green as immigration minister in Prime Minister David Cameron's first Cabinet reshuffle in September, maintains that the changes are necessary and unbiased.
Lowest possible threshold
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's World at One, Mr Harper said the £18,600 was the lowest possible figure from the recommendations made:
"We asked the Migration Advisory Committee what the [threshold] should be, they gave us a range between £18,600 and £25,000, we actually chose the lower number," said the minister.
"There's logic behind it: it's the amount that a couple will be unable to claim income related benefits. So what we're basically saying to people is that you can bring to the UK as part of your family but we expect you to be able to pay for them.
"We don't expect you to basically say to the taxpayer 'you need to foot the bill' and that's all we're asking.
"Most people will think that's a very reasonable position to take."
The argument against the threshold has largely centred on the ability for some people, particularly migrant groups as well as minority groups and women, to earn £18,600 but Mr Harper disagrees.
"I don't accept that, I think people who bring a family member to the UK have one of two choices: they can live in one of the two locations that the people from, if they want to come to the UK all we're asking is that they should have to pay for their family rather than expecting the taxpayer to pay for their family for them.
"I don't think if you it that way round most people would think it was an unreasonable thing to do.
"Families that are working very hard in the UK in a difficult economic environment to pay for their own families shouldn't be paying for people to come from outside the UK and claim welfare payments."
When Mr Harper was asked whether he felt the Government was still in line to reach the stated target of reducing net migration to the 'tens of thousands' by the next election, the minister remained confident, although he denied the introduction of the salary cap was associated with that goal.
"Just to be clear, the changes made to the family route were to clampdown on the abuse of the system, they weren't specifically to hit the net migration target.
"The first set of figures that were published just after I started this job showed that we're moving in the right direction - a 15% fall. The changes my predecessor put in place are going to start having an effect now and will kick in over the next couple of years so we're very confident that we'll hit out target by the election - that's what we promised."
Marissa Murdock, casework manager at the UK Visa Bureau, says while the income threshold is clearly well intended, it impacts on certain groups who would have been eligible to move to the UK without threatening the integrity of the welfare system.
"Under old policy we used to see quite a lot of instances of young couples - either just out of university or still living at home - who relied on family support while finding their feet once they were married," said Ms Murdock.
"This kind of third party support has been disallowed under the policy changes and such couples have somewhat harshly found themselves the victims of the changes.
"While there is no doubt that there are some unscrupulous or inconsiderate people who are comfortable exploiting the system, many young couples do not want to claim benefits and should be allowed to move to the UK legally."
- Dominic Ladden-Powell is the Online Editor for the UK Visa Bureau.
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