British residents of Japan with Japanese spouses breathed a sigh of relief Friday after British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party failed to win an overall majority in the general election, leaving its hard-line policy on immigration up in the air.
As part of the Conservatives’ efforts to reduce net migration, the party pledged to raise the income threshold for Britons who wish to bring their non-European spouses home, without clarifying the amount. The plan raised eyebrows for many Britons in Japan with Japanese spouses who were already upset about the threshold, which the Conservative government implemented in 2012.
The minimum annual income required to receive a spousal visa is £18,600, with an additional £3,800 needed to bring a child and £2,400 for each additional child.
“I’m happy to see that Labour made so many gains and it’s encouraging as well that the turnout has been higher as well,” said Adam Cleeve, a 44-year-old English teacher.
Having spent more than two years in Japan with his Japanese wife, Cleeve had been worried about the proposed increase to the income threshold for spousal visas, saying it would make it “more and more difficult” to choose to return to the U.K.
“It’s worrying because if it goes up, how much is it going to go up by,” Cleeve told The Japan Times on Thursday. He and his wife want their daughter, now 6 months old, to be educated in Britain. Moreover, he feels a responsibility to take care of his parents in Britain, who are approaching their 70s.
But to do this, Cleeve must earn £22,400 a year just to bring his family back to the U.K. If the visa threshold rises, he said he would have to reconsider.
“It feels like we’re being told you’re too poor to come to your own country with the woman that you love and your family. It’s my country, why is it so difficult?” he said.
John McBride, a 37-year-old English teacher in Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, with a Japanese spouse, also welcomed the results, saying it was “lot better than what the mainstream media had predicted 24 hours ago.”
McBride, who voted for Labour, slammed the plan to increase the annual income threshold as “utterly abhorrent.”
“It is a policy which has very little effect on immigration numbers yet has a huge effect on individual families,” McBride said. “This is the sort of policy which earned the Conservatives ‘the nasty party’ label as it plays well to their base and makes a good sound bite even though the details of the policy won’t really have a significant effect on immigration numbers.”
Andrew Kirkham, a Kanagawa Prefecture resident, said he voted for Labour for many reasons, including its pledge to remove the income threshold for foreign spouses.
Kirkham and his wife lived in the U.K. for a couple of years, during which his wife worked and paid income tax and insurance premiums. But they had to return to Japan to look after his wife’s aging parents.
“The earliest I will return to the U.K. will probably be after I retire. So my income will drop to a level probably below the current threshold,” Kirkham said. “Now, the only way I could return would be on my own, without my Japanese wife.”
Hugh Ashton, a writer and a resident of Kanagawa Prefecture, said he was angry about the income threshold as well.
“I am strongly opposed to this immoral policy by the party of ‘family values,’ which tears apart many families,” said Ashton, who added that he and his wife “had to jump through very expensive and frustrating hoops to allow her to get a temporary 2½-year Right to Reside permit.
While I recognize that uncontrolled migration causes problems, the denial of basic human rights to British citizens is, in my view, totally unacceptable.”
Ginny Takemori, a translator who lives in Ibaraki Prefecture with her Japanese husband, said the government should scrap the minimum salary threshold.
“I feel outraged that Brits like myself do not have the right to live together in the U.K. with our life partners,” Takemori said. “There are many reasons why British people in the marriage might struggle to meet the income threshold in order to bring their spouse in. But that doesn’t mean they will be a burden on society. I don’t feel welcome in my own country.”