Scottish Government, Neil Gray MSP, Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development — Written evidence (FAM0015)   


I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this call for evidence on family migration.


Scotland has distinct demographic and geographic needs, including a falling birth rate, an ageing population and geographical imbalances. These challenges are driven by Scotland’s historical legacy as a nation of out-migration. It is only since the start of this century that Scotland become a nation of in-migration with a growing population. However, this is projected to change.


Scotland’s population growth is due solely to inward migration, and current projections show that after 2028 Scotland’s population will begin to decline; the only country in the UK where this is projected to be the case. Additionally, natural change – the difference between number of births and number of deaths – is projected to fall to lower levels than have ever previously been recorded. The proportion of children and young people in Scotland is projected to fall by 22% over this period.


In order to tackle these demographic challenges, Scotland needs people to live, work and raise families here. Family migration has a key role in supporting people who have a right to live in Scotland to bring their families here. Analysis by the Scottish Government has found that the minimum income threshold is a significant barrier to family reunification. In 2019 over 50% of British nationals resident in Scotland would not have met the threshold to allow them to bring a spouse and 2 children into the UK through the family migration route, while a third would not meet the threshold to bring a spouse. These percentages fell slightly post pandemic to just over 46% and 29% respectively.


Scotland’s first national Population Strategy, published in March 2021, sets out these challenges thematically alongside a range of work which is being delivered by Scottish Ministers to address these challenges and harnessing opportunities. As part of this, the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Population Taskforce has committed to making Scotland as attractive and welcoming as possible, along with ensuring Scotland is the very best place to raise a family. Family migration policy has a key role to play in facilitating both of these objectives being met.


With immigration reserved to the UK Government, it is crucial that the UK’s immigration system delivers for Scotland and its distinct needs. This requires immigration policy being geared towards ensuring resilient, sustainable communities and public services, a part of which is enabling families to move to, and settle within, Scotland’s communities.

Where migrants are enabled and supported to bring their families with them, they are more likely to stay here in the long term and to settle within our communities. An immigration system which met Scotland’s needs would be designed to encourage this outcome, for the long term benefit of families and the communities within which they reside.


Our rural communities in particular are adversely impacted by current family migration rules. Many people employed within these areas, where jobs are typically lower paid, will fail to meet income thresholds required for family visas, and will therefore not be permitted to bring their families with them. Our analysis shows that 29% of UK citizens living in Scotland are ineligible to sponsor a spouse to come to the UK; this proportion is likely to be higher in rural areas. Many of our rural communities are experiencing both population decline alongside population ageing, which has a knock-on impact on the funding and provision of public services. Enabling migrants to bring their families to live in these areas is an important tool in supporting the flourishing of these communities for the long term. The Scottish Government is committed to putting forward practical, evidence-based and deliverable proposals for how this could be practically implemented within the current UK immigration system, including through tailored migration solutions such as our forthcoming proposal for a Rural Visa Pilot which would facilitate migration to rural and remote areas.


As highlighted across a range of independently produced literature, a fundamental change in approach and attitude is required from the UK Government in relation to family migration. The Scottish Government is firmly of the view that anyone who is entitled to live in Scotland should be able to bring their family with them, and migrants should have access to services and support to encourage integration into our communities. Additionally, the immigration system should be easy to access and understand, with a focus on what a prospective migrant can contribute, not on their ability to pay; therefore fees and charges should be fair and proportionate. The current minimum income thresholds are arbitrary and result in extended periods of separation for families who are unable to meet them. The Scottish Government are therefore calling upon the UK Government to review these thresholds taking into account realistic salary expectations, in addition to ensuring the system facilitates the long term wellbeing of children and families.


There remain several areas where policy changes and improvements could be made to better meet Scotland’s needs, and Scottish Ministers continue to highlight these issues to the UK Government. Our primary asks in relation to family migration are as follows:



This letter provides an overview of the Scottish Government’s position on a number of the questions included in the Committee’s call for evidence. However, the Committee may find it helpful to note the EAG’s 2021 report on family migration which provides the evidence base for broader context.


I, and my officials, would welcome further engagement on this important matter, and I thank you again for the opportunity to contribute to this piece of work.




7 September 2022


Submission on behalf of the Scottish Government to the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee



Does the financial requirement for spouses and partners (also known as “minimum income requirement”) achieve its objectives? How could the requirement, and the process of demonstrating it is met, achieve them better? How could it be adapted to reflect changes in the economy and the labour market? Are there any unintended consequences for individuals and families?


  1. In order to sponsor a family member to move to the UK from overseas, the current minimum income requirement is a salary of £18,600; this rises to £22,400 for a partner and one child, and a further £2,400 for each additional child. Additionally, the UK requires sponsors being joined by dependants to pay £475 for a visa for each child.


  1. This represents a significant barrier to family reunification. Analysis by the Scottish Government has found that in 2019 over 50% of British nationals resident in Scotland would not have met the threshold to allow them to bring a spouse and 2 children into the UK through the family migration route. While a third would not meet the threshold to bring in a spouse, the percentage fell slightly post pandemic to just over 46% and 29% respectively. We know that younger people, women and those in rural communities are likely to be disproportionately impacted by these thresholds. The percentage of UK nationals in Scotland who are ineligible as sponsors based on the minimum income thresholds is set out in Table 1 below.


Table 1: Minimum income threshold - Percentage of UK nationals in Scotland not eligible to sponsor a family member



Not eligible to sponsor spouse



Not eligible to sponsor spouse + 2 children








Data source: Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, ONS



1. Covers employees aged 16 and over in full-time and part-time employment.

2. Employees on adult rates who have been in the same job for more than one year. Employees who have moved job in the last year have been excluded from this analysis.


  1. Additionally, sponsors must prove they are able to meet these costs on their own, and are not permitted to rely on support from family members or other third parties. In July 2013, the High Court ruled that these requirements - the level at which the threshold was set and the disregard of spouses’ future income or credible offers of support from third parties - was disproportionate and unlawful.[1]  Furthermore, in 2016 the Supreme Court found the rules on visas for spouses from outside the EEA are unlawful because they fail to take into account the best interests of children.[2]


  1. Given that a significant proportion of the population are unable to meet these thresholds, this often results in families being separated for extended periods of time, with migrants unable to bring their families to join them in the UK. The exact number of people prevented from coming to the UK due to the threshold is not known, however an analysis by the UK Government in 2012 estimated this to be in the region of 13,600 and 17,800 per year.[3] The threshold creates a range of social and economic challenges and inequalities, such as disparate rights across different income groups.


  1. The UK Government should look to international examples of best practice regarding minimum income thresholds. One example is Sweden, where those sponsoring non-EU family members must only demonstrate they can support themselves, as opposed to also supporting any incoming family members. The intention of this is to ‘promote integration by increasing incentives for people to obtain work, earn their own living and move to municipalities where they have a good chance of obtaining work and a place of their own to live’[4]. This type of approach supports and enables positive contributions and impacts of other members of migrant households to the labour market and broader economy, who may also possess an advanced level of education or good employment prospects.


In what circumstances may family immigration law and practice result in an extended (or indefinite) period of family separation or place families under stress in other ways? How could they be adapted to prevent or shorten periods of family separation or be more accommodating of the wellbeing of families?


  1. It is common for migrant families to send a ‘pioneer’ to the new country first before deciding whether other family members will follow; this may depend on whether practical issues of securing income, accommodation and so on have been resolved. However, in reality this can often take longer than families have anticipated, resulting in an extended period of separation, which can have a range of both practical and emotional challenges.


  1. For many families this will involve the ‘pioneer’ migrant working to build up sufficient income to act as sponsors and/or seeking to switch visas to more accommodating routes, while other family members may visit on tourist or family visitor visas and then seek ways to stay for longer, or to find employment and apply for a working visa. In some scenarios, overly restrictive rules can lead migrants to pursue irregular migration as a means of reuniting their family, which may introduce complications in the longer term such as poverty, inequality, and irregular status of adults who arrived through irregular migration as children.[5]


  1. In 2022, the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) – a tool which compares policies to integrate migrants in countries across six continents – assessed the UK as the second worst of all the countries surveyed for their family reunification policies. The UK with a score of 29 ranked below Germany (42), France (43) Ireland (48) Norway (58) USA (62) and Spain (69). While the UK Government has referenced Australia in developing immigration policy it is notable that its rating of (68) places it well above that of the UK. MIPEX notes that “Family reunification remains a major obstacle for non-EU newcomers to the UK, which ranks second from the bottom among MIPEX countries. They face unfavourable, restrictive requirements and definitions of family. Family-reunited migrants do not enjoy a fully secure future.”[6]



What is the impact of family migration policies on public services?


  1. The challenges inherent in the UK’s current family migration policies also impact the spatial distribution of migration across Scotland. While those living in urban areas are paid higher wages and would be more likely to meet the threshold, in rural and remote areas – which constitutes vast areas of Scotland – incomes regularly fall below the minimum threshold. This may compound existing imbalances in the geographic spread of migration across different types of areas. This is particularly challenging in the Scottish context where many rural and remote areas are experiencing acute depopulation and population ageing, which introduces a knock-on effect for public service funding and provision, and in turn the viability of these communities.


  1. Rural communities in particular would benefit from bespoke migration schemes to encourage migrants and their families to settle there, in order to help mitigate the effects of population ageing and decline, as migrants tend to be of childbearing age or to already have a family. International examples of similar schemes include the Canadian Arctic Immigration Program and the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot. The Scottish Government has developed such a rural visa pilot scheme in consultation with local authorities from across Scotland which we will soon submit to the UK Government and Migration Advisory for consideration.


  1. In addition to challenges in meeting the minimum income requirement, migrants are also less likely to wish to settle in rural and remote areas. Previous research conducted by the EAG has explored a range of options to encourage migrants settle in different areas of Scotland, including remote and rural areas[7]. Some key findings of these analyses were:


How do family migration policies affect children separated from one or both of their parents (or other relative)?


  1. In some instances, it may be a number of years before migrants are able to bring their families to the UK. Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has demonstrated that this can adversely impact children’s language learning, school attainment and longer-term educational and labour market performance in the host country (OECD 2017). The recommendation of the OECD is therefore that young children should be permitted to accompany migrating parents upon admission, and that sponsors should be provided with clear information about possibilities to reunite with their families.


How do family migration policies and their implementation affect the integration and participation in British society of (would-be) sponsors and their sponsored family members?


  1. Further to shorter-term integration challenges, as highlighted by the MIPEX “family-united migrants do not enjoy a fully secure future”, as the UK also imposes significant fees when applying to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) and citizenship in comparison with other countries. Families with several children in particular may struggle to afford this and would stop them from acquiring a more stable financial status in the host country; this may therefore have the counter-productive effect of discouraging people from applying for ILR or citizenship status, thereby impeding integration and settlement.[9]





Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population (2021), Family migration: understanding the drivers, impacts and support needs of migrant families


Law Society of Scotland (2013), Family Migration Revisited


Migration Advisory Committee (2016), The Minimum Income Requirement for Non-EEA Family Members in the UK


Migration Policy Index (2020), Key Findings


OECD (2017) Making Integration Work : Family Migrants


Scottish Government (2019), Immigration policy and demographic change: learning from Australia, Canada and continental Europe


Strategic Legal Fund (2016), Supreme Court Judgment: Government's Family Migration Rules fail children and declared unlawful - Strategic Legal Fund


Swedish Government Bill 2009/10:77. (2009). Försörjningskrav vid anhöriginvandring [Financial support requirement for family immigration] – cited in Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population (2021), Family migration: understanding the drivers, impacts and support needs of migrant families



[1] Family Migration Revisited - Law Society of Scotland

[2] Supreme Court Judgment: Government's Family Migration Rules fail children and declared unlawful - Strategic Legal Fund

[3] The Minimum Income Requirement for Non-EEA Family Members in the UK - Migration Observatory Committee

[4] SOU 2008:114. [Financial support requirement for family immigration]; cited in EAG (2021)

[5] EAG (2021) Family migration: understanding the drivers, impacts and support needs of migrant families

[6] Key Findings 2022 - MIPEX

[7] See for example: Immigration policy and demographic change: learning from Australia, Canada and continental Europe (2019)

[8] EAG (2021): Family migration: understanding the drivers, impacts and support needs of migrant families

[9] EAG (2021): Family migration: understanding the drivers, impacts and support needs of migrant families