EEA family permit: Surinder Singh route and its implications for British citizens

08/07/2013

On 9 July 2012 the UK government brought in new financial thresholds for those wishing to sponsor a foreign spouse or partner for a UK settlement marriage or fiancee visa to enter the country. This was set at £18,600 with an additional amount required for each child (£3,800 for the first and then £2,400 for every additional child included in the UK partner visa application) which many UK sponsors find impossible to attain. Although below the UK ‘average’ wage, the level set has been estimated to be beyond the reach of 47% of the UK workforce and taking that number to its ultimate conclusion means that almost half of all settlement applications to bring in a non-EU family member to the UK will fail for financial reasons. Many people are desperate and are turning to the Surinder Singh route, seen by many as a loophole which should be closed, but conversely mentioned specifically on the UK Border Agency (UKBA) website as an alternative method to bring a foreign partner or spouse into the country on a permanent basis.

Essentially, this route takes advantage of a difference in EU and UK immigration law and when it can be said to apply. If a British citizen works in another EU member state (this is taken as a reasonable length of time but in fact there is no definitive timescale laid down in law) and has their non-EU wife or partner and/or children join them there, on their return to the UK the family can come with them on an EEA family permit perfectly legally and without meeting the financial threshold as required under the UK settlement visa rules. This is because EU economic treaty rights allow this and EU law always comes first above UK law – this applies in all member states that agree that this will be the case when they join the EU.

Some commentators are of the opinion that this ‘loophole’ should be plugged, and quickly. Last year it is estimated that 20,000 people entered the country through this route and this number is set to increase as more and more UK citizens become desperate at the deadlock in the UK application system. Most especially disadvantaged are the self-employed and those who are the lower of the wage earners in the relationship. A non-EU spouse who has high earning power in the UK can come in under certain circumstances but this involves high levels of savings or non-employment sources of income which most people simply don’t have. If the British citizen can set up a business or get a job for a short while in another EU member state, the deadlock can be broken and the family can be reunited. Most people head for the Republic of Ireland as having no language barrier but with many jobs involving computer skills are multinational, some IT personnel in particular are finding very worthwhile jobs in Europe which can then relocate easily when they return – with their families – to the UK.

The Surinder Singh route was established as a legal precedent as long ago as 1992 although it is only recently that it has been taken advantage of to any extent, due to the new financial thresholds which have now been in place for a year. It remains to be seen whether further legislation is even possible, given the precedence of EU law over that of individual states and meanwhile, many families are now reunited who thought they would be spending many more months if not years apart. The UKBA website has a paragraph outlining the Surinder Singh route as one which circumvents the UK legislation and although it is not displayed prominently, anyone who is familiar with this provision could easily take advantage of it.

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