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Thousands of couples and families in the UK are currently at risk of losing their spouse visas due to one unreasonable requirement.

According to UK law, spouses with visas who wish to remain in the country must meet certain financial requirements in order to do so. A couple must earn a combined total of £18,600 per year (that’s roughly equivalent to $25,651). And if the couple has kids, they must earn an extra £3,800 (that’s about $5,240) for the first child and £2,400 (about $3,309) per any additional child after that. So, a family of four would need to earn a total net income of at least £24,800 (about $34,200).

This may sound like no problem for a couple or family living solidly in the middle or upper class. After all, the average annual income for a full-time employee in the UK is currently £31,461 per person. But what about a couple who lives on the National Living Wage (in the UK, anyone over the age of 25 is legally entitled to £9.30 an hour)? If both adults earned a National Living Wage and worked full-time (37.5 hours per week), the couple would earn a combined total of £36,270 — and that’s before taxes.

But we’re currently in the middle of a global pandemic. The economy is crashing and unemployment is at an all-time high. If one spouse lost their job due to COVID, they’d immediately fail to meet the financial requirements. And then what? They’d be kicked out of the country, leaving their spouse to care for the kids on their own? How is that fair?

As of December 2020, the Office for National Statistics estimated that 1.7M people were currently unemployed in the UK. That’s 5% of the working population and the highest it’s been in five years in the country.

In March 2021, the UK’s Home Office finally declared that they would attempt to show some leniency to couples who lost their jobs due to COVID. They announced that, as long as they met the financial requirements in the six months leading up to the pandemic, they would take that under consideration. But the wording of the official ruling is extremely vague and nobody quite knows exactly how this will be enacted.

Putting that vagueness aside for a moment, there’s another issue that’s significantly more pressing: the “leniency period” officially ends May 31, 2021. That may seem reasonable given that vaccinations are finally underway, but the reality is that the economy is not going to immediately bounce back. In fact, it’s estimated that 2.2M people in the UK could be unemployed by the end of 2021. That’s 6.5% of the workforce.

To expect anyone to retain their spouse visa UK during the current economy — and in the middle of a pandemic, nonetheless — is unreasonable. And to separate families in the middle of a pandemic because of one small requirement is just plain cruel.

Hopefully, the UK will update its requirements or will extend its leniency period past May 31. After all, families need to be together now more than ever.

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