UKVI visa application processing fees increase from 6 April 2017

5 April 2017

It has been announced that the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) processing fees are set to increase tomorrow, 6 April 2017. The new Home Office immigration and nationality fees were approved by Parliament on 3 April 2017. The significant increase is seen at the settlement fiancée, unmarried partner and spouse visa applications made outside the UK and indefinite leave to remain (ILR) applications for non-EEA nationals who have already completed their five-year probationary period in the UK. The new fees are as follows.

The cost of applying for a UK settlement fiancée, partner and marriage visa is set to rise from its current rate of £1,195 to £1,464 per applicant (£269 increase). Postal indefinite leave to remain (ILR) and further leave to remain (FLR) applications for temporary visa holders with no dependents will cost more – £2,297 (£422 increase) and £993 (£182 increase), respectively. Those who wish to apply in person (same day service) at the local UKVI public enquiry offices will have to pay an additional fee of £590 on top of the standard application fee. Dependants must pay a separate application fee, which is non-refundable regardless of the outcome of the principal applicant’s immigration application.

The UKVI settlement priority (fast track) visa service fee will rise to £551 (currently £450) per applicant, including any dependents, regardless of age. This additional service is available to eligible applicants in participating countries which guarantees the settlement partner, fiancée or spousal visa application will be processed at the front of the UKVI queue, normally within 10 to 15 working days. It should be noted that this service does not guarantee a successful outcome, as settlement priority applications not meeting the UKVI criteria for approval will be refused. Unsuccessful applicants are not entitled to a refund.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Supreme Court: income threshold requirement ‘lawful in principle’

1 March 2017

In late February 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that a controversial Home Office policy was ‘lawful in principle’. The policy, which requires households to reach an income threshold of £18,600 per annum before spouses or partners from outside the European Economic Area are granted a UK settlement partner visa, fiancee visa or a spouse visa, has brought widespread protest and condemnation. However, while critical of the government’s implementation and general handling of the policy, Supreme Court judges ultimately elected to uphold it. Nonetheless, they expressed criticism for the government’s dereliction of duty to children affected by the policy.

Currently, thousands of families are separated by national borders, as the minimum income threshold makes it impossible for many non-British partners to enter the country. This, argue the families affected, violates their human right to a family life. According to the Home Office, the reasoning behind the financial requirement is to lessen the burden on the British taxpayer. By ensuring that families can support themselves before any UK settlement visas under the partner route are granted, the Home Office believes that they are preventing these families from relying upon the welfare state, and thus addressing concerns within Britain about the impact of immigration on the benefits system. For couples with no children under the age of 18, the minimum income requirement is £18,600 per annum. If the sponsoring British citizen and their foreign partner or spouse have a child of non-British citizenship, that rises to £22,400. An additional £2,400 is added for any subsequent children. As is stands, the policy does not apply to partners or spouses within the European Economic Area – but this may alter, pending Brexit negotiations.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, the financial requirements did not take into account the income of the non-British partner unless they were physically in the UK with permission to work at the time of application. Nor did they consider any outside assets apart from cash savings that the couple or family may have. The decision was made purely on the earnings of the British partner. Campaigners pointed out that this put many couples in an impossible and frustrating position – as a minimum income threshold which could easily be met were both their incomes taken into account is nigh on impossible for someone to achieve on their own, possibly while also trying to raise a family without the presence and assistance of their partner. Many Britons have moved abroad in order to be with their partner, and live as a family.

Judges were not unsympathetic to the plight of the thousands of couples and families affected by the current Home Office policy. They admitted that the ruling would cause “significant hardship” for many people. They were also heavily critical of the government’s implementation of the policy – particularly as regards children. While upholding the Home Office’s right to continue with their minimum income threshold, they also warned that changes would have to be made. In particular the Home Office must take “proper account” of the nation’s duty to safeguard children. Furthermore, the Supreme Court recommended that “alternative sources” of income were considered during visa applications – not simply the wages of the British party.

The Supreme Court has no legal power to overturn or alter government policies, unless those policies are deemed to be intrinsically unlawful, or in contravention of human rights. The seven judges who considered this case were condemnatory of the suffering it has caused, but ruled that it was not, ultimately, against the law to require families to meet a minimum income threshold before visas could be granted. The Home Office has stated that “The court has endorsed our approach in setting an income threshold for family migration that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and ensures migrant families can integrate into our communities. This is central to building an immigration system that works in the national interest. The current rules remain in force, but we are carefully considering what the court has said in relation to exceptional cases where the income threshold has not been met, particularly where the case involves a child.”

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Removal of 28-day grace period for FLR extension applications

21 November 2016

The recent changes to the UK immigration rules remove the ’28-day grace period’ which allowed applicants to apply for further leave to remain (FLR) after their current visa or leave to remain had expired. Apart from other migration categories, the new Home Office regulations also apply to extension applications made under the partner route on or after November 24, 2016 including spouse, unmarried partner and dependent children applications sponsored by British citizens and UK permanent residents.

The 28-day grace period was established in October 2012 for all visas to allow the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to disregard a small period of overstaying by the applicant provided an extension application was submitted within 28 days from the expiry of the initial visa. In this case, the examining UKVI officials could consider extension applications under normal immigration rules and procedures without imposing any penalties or sanctions on the applicant. The 28-day grace period arose from an amendment to the Immigration Act 1971 referred to as ‘Section 3C leave’. A person would not be deemed an overstayer while they were waiting a decision on an in-time application. However, when the application for a visa extension was made out of time, section 3C was not applicable. The 28-day grace period was therefore introduced to deal with extension applications made post the expiry date of the visa. It has been considered helpful in preventing out-of-time applications from being disregarded because of a simple mistake or exceptional circumstances. This approach was confirmed by the Upper Tribunal in December 2015 in the case of R vs Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Effective November 24, 2016 the 28-day grace period will no longer apply. The government seeks to emphasise the importance of UK immigration laws being complied with strictly. Recently, the Minister for Immigration, Robert Goodwill, published a written ministerial statement summarising the amendments and noting that the new requirement is designed to encourage greater compliance with the rules. Effectively, this means that all those with a valid visa to remain in the UK (either on the partner route or other) must ensure that their extension applications are made before their current visa expires.

In an attempt to reduce the harshness the government has reduced the 28-day period to 14 days. Currently, the UKVI can disregard this limited overstaying period if the Secretary of State considers there is a good reason beyond the control of the applicant or their representative, for the tardiness. Moreover, any person who has obtained extended leave via section 3C can only stay for 14 days from the expiry of any leave extended by section 3C.

Thus far, the reduced grace period has received wide criticism, on the grounds that it does not adequately protect individuals who are entitled to remain in the UK because there may be circumstances beyond their control. The critics note that there is a genuine need both for leniency and for setting realistic time frames. There are specific cases, for instance, which would lead individuals to infringe the new time limits. Without a doubt, some applicants who have been refused permission to remain in the UK may need more than 14 days to seek legal advice, understand their current situation and consider the best option for themselves and their families.

The shorter 14-day period places undue pressure on families, critics note. If the objective of the grace period is to provide leniency, then the regulations should remain true to the spirit of the law and offer a realistic time period for applicants to put their affairs in order. “A 14-day grace period is better than nothing,” argue those who back the new requirement, though there are many examples of cases in which 14 days may simply not be enough. If an individual’s right to remain in the UK is paramount, and leniency is taken into account, the measure can, perhaps, be considered excessively strict. Until any amendments are made to the new regulations, however, all individuals relying on visas to remain in the UK should make it a priority to apply for extended leave before their current visa expires.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

New A2 English language requirement in the family route

15 November 2016

In January 2016, the UK Home Office announced a new English language requirement for foreign nationals applying to extend their existing settlement visa or leave to remain under the family route. Non-EEA partners and spouses of British citizens and UK legal permanent residents wishing to extend their existing leave after completing their initial two and a half year probationary period in the UK will soon have to pass a mandatory English test at A2 level.

The purpose behind the new requirement is to ensure that those living in the UK on a settlement spouse or partner visa continue to learn English and increase their fluency over time. That is, a wife, husband or unmarried partner from non-majority English speaking countries who is taking the family immigration path to remain in the UK, will have to prove that they possess a specified higher level of English. The new Home Office requirement will be effective from May 2017 onwards. It will apply to all individuals whose leave to enter or remain as a partner or spouse is due to expire on or after May 1, 2017 apart from nationals of majority English speaking countries and who hold a degree taught or researched in English. Applicants over 65 and those who have a disability which impedes them from fulfilling the requirement or can prove exceptional circumstances are exempt.

The English language requirements for family migrants have been present in UK immigration law since November 2010. Currently partners and spouses of British citizens and permanent residents are required to show they have at least an A1 speaking and listening comprehension level before they can apply for a settlement fiancée, de facto partner or spousal visa to enter or remain in the UK. The new A2 requirement only affects partners and spouses who have already been living in the UK for two and a half years and who wish to remain further. Those applying for an initial fiancée, partner or marriage visa from outside the UK will still be required to pass an A1 level English test. Once in the UK, first time family visa holders will be required to pass a higher A2 level English test before they can apply to extend their existing visas from inside the UK. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) aims to encourage non-EEA nationals to learn English so they can integrate into British society as quickly as possible. By ensuring that all those wishing to remain in the UK progressively improve their English level, the government feels that immigrants will be more likely to find work and adapt well to their new country.

There are specific providers that are approved under the Immigration Rules to provide A2 level speaking and listening tests for non-EEA nationals applying for further leave to remain as a partner or spouse. These are Trinity College London and IELTS SELT Consortium. The UKVI English test for partners applying to extend their existing UK settlement visa or leave to remain are designed to confirm the applicant’s fluency in speaking and listening to ensure they can understand short, simple, clear messages and announcements. In the speaking part of the test, the candidate must be able to follow a simple factual conversation or express simple opinions.

The UKVI-approved Trinity College London and IELTS listening and speaking tests for partners and spouses last a total of seven minutes and are undertaken with one examiner. Candidates can prepare for the exam online or can opt to follow an accredited English language course.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

UK spouse and partner visa application process after Brexit

11 July 2016

Brexit is a huge topic of conversation in most households in Britain right now. Whilst Leave campaigners are rejoicing, Remain campaigners and those EEA citizens living in the UK that were unable to vote are feeling sad about the split, which many anticipate will be a very messy divorce. Interest in UK immigration and British citizenship has increased since the Brexit decision was announced, and many visa holders and prospective applicants are asking questions such as what will happen if I hold a UK settlement fiancee, partner or spouse visa, or an EEA family permit? Will I still be able to apply for a visa to remain in the UK if I do not have one already? The answers to these questions are as yet unclear, and will remain unclear until article 50 is invoked and the UK officially decides to leave the EU. However, it would be reasonable to assume that living and working in the UK is likely to be significantly more difficult for EEA nationals and their family members after the leave vote, and is likely to involve adhering to new restrictions and barriers: these barriers are likely to be financially costly, and take the form of permits, visas or other requirements.

Much of the ways in which Brexit will affect UK visa applicants will depend on whether or not Britain wishes to remain a part of the EEA common market. It is expected that if Britain wishes to continue trading with the EU then a commitment to continue the freedom of movement for the EEA nationals will be part of this negotiation: in that instance much of the visa application process will remain the same. This would be good news for EEA citizens and their families living, or wishing to settle in the UK on a permanent basis. However, if Britain makes the decision to leave the common market in order to fulfil their promise to regain control of the borders then the visa application process is likely to look very different leaving EEA nationals in a situation where they will need to apply for UK entry visas to remain in the UK in much the same way as non-EEA citizens currently do.

UK settlement visas for partners and spouses of British Citizens

The good news is that non-EEA nationals who are applying for a UK de facto partner, fiancee or spousal visa are the least likely to experience much change to the application process as a result of the Brexit decision. These types of visas are issued to foreign nationals who have a partner or spouse that is a British citizen or has already achieved permanent settled status in the UK (indefinite leave to remain or ILR), so the anticipation is that there will be little to no change in the way that these applications are handled by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). UK settlement visas are issued under UK immigration Rules and there are currently no legislative proposals to change the existing policy.

Surinder Singh route

Spouses of British citizens living in other EEA countries who are hoping to take advantage of the Surinder Singh route to settle in the UK are likely to be affected. The Surinder Singh route to entry appeals to couples that do not meet the financial requirement of their settlement visa application, and allows the sponsoring British citizen to move to another EU country before bringing their non-EEA spouse to live with them in the UK under the EEA family permit scheme circumnavigating the need to apply for a traditional UK spouse visa under UK immigration Rules. This route is expected to be one of the first to close.

EEA family permit

Most of the media attention surrounding the rights of EEA nationals to live in the UK has focused on those individuals applying for EEA family permits and residence cards to confirm their right to live and work in the UK. This is where the results of the Brexit referendum are most likely to change the application process. EEA nationals who have been living in the UK for less than five years are expected to be asked to apply for the relevant (points based or family) visa in order to remain in the country, whilst future EEA applicants hoping to live in the country would have to apply for UK entry clearance in the same way as non-EEA citizens are currently required to. The group that this will affect the most are EEA citizens wishing to move to the UK, along with their non-EEA partners. The process is likely to be more time consuming, complicated and expensive following the process of leaving the EU. It is likely that EEA nationals wishing to settle in the UK permanently will have to meet minimum income requirements, adhere to point based application process and jump through a wide variety of new hoops.

It is likely that EEA citizens residing in the UK currently will not be thrown out of the country, but instead will be asked to apply for a visa to stay – just as non-EEA citizens would be. Those visa applicants who do not meet the requirements may not be able to stay. Those who have obtained permanent status through living in the UK for five non-interrupted years may apply for a Home Office document certifying permanent residence. Although not mandatory, as the UK visa application process becomes more ambiguous and complicated as a result of the Brexit, it is advisable to apply for permanent residence as soon as legally possible. This document confirms the holder’s right to live and work in the UK on an indefinite basis.

It is unlikely that we will see immediate changes to the UK visa application process, and until article 50 is invoked and the discussions between the British government and Brussels surrounding how this will change their relationship begin, we cannot really predict exactly what the results will be. It could well be that the UK wishes to remain part of the EEA common market, in which case the free movement of people is likely to be a non-negotiable part of that agreement. However, until article 50 is invoked, it is hard to predict what the result of this unprecedented process is likely to be.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

UK partner and spouse visa fees set to rise on 18 March 2016

7 March 2016

The UK government announced earlier this year that UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) application fees would increase to reduce reliance on taxpayer contributions. As a result, some visa categories will see a significant increase (up to 25%) in 2016. Most notably, UK settlement partner, fiancée and spouse visa application processing fee is set to rise from its current rate of £956 to £1,195 per applicant. The associated premium services will also see an increase after 18 March 2016. The UKVI settlement priority service fee will go up from £360 to £450 per applicant. Dependants must pay a separate application fee. All fees are non refundable regardless of the outcome.

Those applying for further leave to remain – FLR, indefinite leave to remain – ILR (settlement) from inside the UK after 18 March 2016 will have to pay £811 (currently £649) and £1,875 (currently 1,500), respectively. Applications made in person at a local UKVI premium service centre in the UK (same day service) will attract a higher booking fee in the amount of £500 (currently £400) per person. Naturalisation application fees will rise to £1,236 (currently £1,005) as the citizenship ceremony fee in the amount of £80 has been added to the UKVI application processing fee.

The NHS immigration health surcharge that must be paid as part of any settlement or FLR application made from inside or outside the UK remains the same in 2016. Those applying for a UK settlement partner or marriage visa from outside the UK are required to pay £600 in addition to their base UKVI application fee whereas FLR applicants must pay £500 per person. Australians and New Zealanders will be required to pay the NHS surcharge as part of their immigration application after 6 April 2016 despite the existing reciprocal health care agreements with the UK.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Draft EU agreement may eliminate the EEA Surinder Singh route

17 February 2016

The upcoming referendum over the UK’s position within the EU has significant implications for immigration. Whether Britain votes to stay or to leave, changes are expected that will affect not just foreign nationals currently living in the UK, but also British citizens with non-European spouses wishing to settle in the UK permanently. The deal negotiated by David Cameron includes a section that may close off the Surinder Singh route for these couples. The current UK immigration rules for non-EU spouses have already been labelled ‘absurd’, since British citizens must earn more than £18,600 annually to bring a non-EU spouse to live with them in the UK. This amount rises to £22,400 if the couple has a child who does not possess British citizenship and to £2,400 for each additional child. The current policy effectively bars up to 47 per cent of working Brits from living alongside their non-EU spouse in the UK.

The new draft EU agreement proposes to make the situation even bleaker for affected families. Currently, a loophole known as the ‘Surinder Singh route’ enables many families to escape the harshness of the law. Under this route, British citizens who have transferred their centre of life to another EU country with their foreign spouse may subsequently bring them back to the UK by relying on EU freedom of movement laws. The famed ‘Surinder Singh’ judgement has been officially recognised as entitling family members of British citizens who have lived and worked in another EEA country for a reasonable amount of time, to obtain the EEA family permit under EU legislation as opposed to applying for a settlement spouse visa under UK immigration Rules. After the initial six month permit expires, foreign spouses can stay in the UK under specific circumstances by applying for a 5-year residence card from inside the UK, which also includes qualification under the Surinder Singh route.

A small note in the new EU agreement suggests that this immigration loophole may now be closed. The deal states that the right to free movement within the EU can be denied to any non-EU national who only became resident after marrying an EU citizen or whose European spouse moved to a different EU country before the marriage. The deal also suggests that member states should also be able to deny visa requests if there is an intention to abuse the right to freedom of movement to get around immigration regulations.

Currently, it is estimated that hundreds of families are trying to obtain EEA family permits to live in the UK using the Surinder Singh route. Should the draft be approved, then these and many more future families will have to bear the brunt of tougher immigration rules, with nobody fighting in their corner. Couples who have relied on the loophole will effectively have to apply for a settlement spousal visa under UK immigration Rules which requires the sponsoring British citizens to meet the income threshold criteria for approval as defined by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). The effect may be that many of these families may actually make a new life in other EU member states, deciding not to return to the UK due to current policies. This will undoubtedly be a burden to those with other family members in the UK, who do not wish to be separated from them. Some argue that the rule is discriminatory against fundamental principles set out in the European Convention of Human Rights, which deals with the respect for family and private life.

The draft agreement hits low income families particularly hard, which many argue is discriminatory. Those with no hopes of finding a high paying job in order to meet the financial requirement to bring a foreign partner to the UK on a settlement visa, will be forced to live outside the UK, to keep their family from being torn apart. It can be argued that monetary limits should not dictate a family’s right to live together in the UK. Of course, the draft is only part of the Prime Minister’s proposed renegotiation deal with the EU; the law will have to change and if it does, it will no doubt be challenged as a breach of EU human rights law.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Applicants in Australia and New Zealand to pay NHS surcharge

8 February 2016

New Zealanders and Australians were for a long time exempt from the requirement to pay any kind of surcharge for healthcare received while visiting or living in the UK due to reciprocal healthcare agreements, but from 6 April 2016 that will charge. In line with previous adjustments made in 2015, New Zealanders and Australians will now be required to pay a mandatory NHS health surcharge when they intend to spend more than six months in the UK. This applies to those wishing to join their British citizen or permanent resident partner in the UK on a settlement fiancée, de facto or spouse visa.

The first Immigration Health Surcharge was introduced in April 2015, and applied to all non-EEA nationals. At the time, this excluded nationals from New Zealand and Australia. This surcharge of £200 per year (£150 for students and people entering under the Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS)) resulted in a large amount of money in a short time – more than £100 million in the first six months – being collected by the NHS for use within the system. On 4 February 2016 the UK Government announced that the surcharge would be extended to New Zealander and Australians wishing to visit or settle in the UK. As with other non-EEA nationals, the surcharge will apply to visa holders who are in the UK for more than six months. They will be required to pay £200 per year for each year they are in the country. Previously, New Zealanders and Australians were exempt from the surcharge for the first year of a multi-year stay.

The surcharge does not apply to non-EEA nationals who visit the UK for less than six months. It also does not apply to people who apply for a visitor visa. Those who enter the country on a visitor visa will still pay the full costs for any NHS treatment they receive while in the UK. People who pay the surcharge will be charged for certain services, such as prescriptions and dental care, just as permanent UK residents are. The exception, for New Zealanders and Australians, is for emergency healthcare that is required immediately, and cannot be put off until the individual returns to their home country.

The exact amount a visa applicant will pay depends on how long they stay in the country. Each partner or marriage visa applicant will pay £200 per year (or £150 in the case of students and YMS visitors), with two exceptions. A part-year of more than six months will incur the full £200 charge, but a part-year of less than six months will incur a charge of £100. For example, a stay of three years and 2 months would incur a total charge of £700. Surcharges must be paid at the time of application. If the surcharge is not paid the application will not be granted; similarly, it will be delayed if an incorrect amount is paid.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Supreme Court upholds English language requirement for partners

20 November 2015

Learning a foreign language can be an important part of moving to a new country, but it is not always a requirement for obtaining a visa. However, anyone applying for a UK settlement de facto, fiancée or marriage visa as the spouse or partner of a British citizen or permanent resident is required to prove their English language proficiency before coming to the UK. Two British women, Saiqa Bibi and Saffana Ali, recently challenged the language requirement in a case that was held before the Supreme Court. Both women are married to foreign nationals who do not speak English and who face substantial difficulties in meeting the requirement. The case centred on the claim that by requiring immigrants to pass the English language test before entering the country, the UK family immigration regulations were in breach of article eight of the European convention on human rights, which upholds the right to a private and family life. The women claimed that their families were being kept apart because it was not feasible for their husbands to pass the test before coming to the UK.

The Court disagreed, upholding the decisions made in several similar cases in the past. It ruled that the language requirement was not unreasonable, disproportionate or discriminatory, and therefore was not in breach of the human rights act. However, there are still families being kept apart by difficulties meeting this requirement for the UK partner or spouse visa, and the Court did suggest that the regulations might need to be adjusted in the future to enable exemptions to be granted in individual cases. The language requirement is intended to make it easier for new immigrants to settle in the UK. Being able to speak some English can be useful for practical reasons, from everyday exchanges in the shops to dealing with schools and doctors or applying for a job. Understanding the local language and culture can also reduce the social and emotional strain of moving to a new country. As well as helping new residents to settle in, the language requirements for the UK settlement marriage visa are also intended to relieve the pressure on public services caused by language barriers and to enhance community cohesion by helping new immigrants to connect to the people around them.

The pre-entry English language requirement has only been in place since November 2010. Before then, spouses and partner of UK citizens and residents were able to apply for a UK settlement visa that would enable them to live in the country for two years before being asked for proof of English language ability. Being able to study English in the UK made it easier for families to make the move. The current regulations can leave families or married couples living apart. Some applicants are exempt from the language requirements for family immigration: under 18s, over 65s, or those with chronic mental or physical conditions. Exceptions can also be made on a case by case basis, so if the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) entry clearance officer believes that it would be impossible for the applicant to meet the requirement, a UK marriage visa may still be granted in order to enable the family to live together. However, this only happens in exceptional cases.

Learning the English language in order to meet the UK immigration requirements is not always easy for foreign partners and spouses. In order to do so, visa applicants must not only learn the language, but also prove their knowledge of English by passing a test at an approved centre. Finding a centre locally is not always easy, and passing the test can require more than just knowledge of English. For someone who has no formal education or who is not used to computers, simply coping with the testing procedure can be difficult. These are the kinds of problems faced by Bibi’s husband in Pakistan and Ali’s husband in Yemen. The Supreme Court has suggested it will be open to hearing further submissions on the Ali and Bibi case. One avenue that may be explored is whether the pre-entry language requirement might be incompatible with article eight, but only in cases where it is impractical for the applicant to meet it. If this argument is made and accepted by the Court, the family immigration rules could be changed to enable more exceptions to be granted in individual cases.

Posted in UK marriage visa news

Children’s Commissioner releases report on financial requirements

14 September 2015

On September 9th 2015, the Children’s Commissioner for England released a report examining the effect the UKVI minimum income requirements for partner visas have on migrating children and their families. Since July 9th 2012, sponsoring British citizens and legal permanent residents are required to earn at least £18,600 per year in order to bring their non-EEA family members to the UK for a settlement partner or spousal visa. This financial burden is exacerbated further by the additional requirement of an extra £3,800 for one dependent child and an extra £2,400 for each additional child thereafter.

The minimum income threshold has long been the subject of criticism, with many family and immigration rights experts saying that the figures are not realistic, and effectively keep families apart. After an in-depth investigation into the situation, the Children’s Commissioner has released a thorough 161-page report that brings up a great deal of insightful information, with the key findings as follows.

As it stands, the financial requirements imposed upon British citizens who have started families with people from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) and wish to bring their partner or spouse to the UK are unrealistic. The income level required is greater than almost half the adult population of the UK, meaning that many families simply cannot afford to meet it. In fact, the Children’s Commissioner goes so far as to suggest that the threshold is far too high, and actually discriminatory. The Commissioner feels that British citizens and permanent residents who have formed long-term relationships and began families abroad are effectively being penalised should they wish to return to the UK with their loved ones.

Furthermore, the Commissioner found that the financial requirements do not actually meet the policy aims behind them; as well as not decreasing any perceived burden on the welfare state, any financial benefit to the country are actually overstated. The report also found that the Rules in effect hamper social participation and integration into British society. The report calculates that a minimum of 15,000 children have been directly affected by the implementation of the financial requirements since July 2012. According to a survey of 100 families carried out as part of the report, 79% of the children affected are British citizens, with many suffering anxiety and distress as a result of being separated from a parent. This emotional trauma is further compounded by the pressure and practical difficulties placed upon the family unit as a whole.

From a legal perspective, the report states that the Immigration Rules and additional guidance fail to safeguard the best interests of children in the UK. It is believed that more than one category of children in the country is not protected, with the Rules as they are breaching both national and international law. It was also found that paperwork and UKVI decision letters issued to families are in some instances not only factually incorrect, but even legally incorrect. Such letters were also found to fail to consider the best interests of the children involved.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has long been an advocate of family friendly policies, and believes the report highlights the unnecessary difficulties placed upon families and children in the UK. On the release of the report, she said that she believes the evidence shows that children have a much better opportunity to develop into healthy adults in a loving environment with both parents present. Longfield reinforced the report’s findings that children are placed under a great deal of pressure with anxiety and stress commonplace when separated from a parent, and that their education and social lives suffer a great deal. One of the findings which generated a great deal of coverage in the media, is that many children are now only able to communicate with one of their parents via Skype; thus creating a generation of ‘Skype kids’. The Commissioner stated that she was not seeking to have unrestricted immigration or access for parents from outside of the EEA, only that immigration policies should be fairer and more conscious of the negative impact the current Rules are having on families.

The research which formed the backbone of the report was carried out by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Middlesex University. The JCWI has been very critical of the Immigration Rules and financial requirements introduced in 2012, stating that the attempt to reduce migration into the UK has had the adverse effect of disrupting families and separating parents from their children. The JCWI has called for the Rules to be addressed urgently, with the financial requirements either reduced or scrapped entirely.

With some 15,000 children already affected in only three years since the Rules were introduced, critics have stressed that the problem will only become worse should the Rules stay in place. In effect, the financial requirements mean that many families with two devoted parents are in effect made into single-parent families. Saira Grant, of the JCWI, said the current Rules “fall woefully short” of the need to treat the best interests of children as a primary consideration.

Upon the introduction of the minimum income requirements, the government stated that there is a need to ensure that British-based sponsors wishing to bring their non-EEA spouses and partners to the UK on a settlement visa should be able to prove that they can financially support the entire family. The Government also stated that the income requirements enable migrants to fully participate in society and not be any kind of burden on the taxpayer. The Home Office has always maintained that the Rules are completely legal and compatible with human rights. In 2014, the Court of Appeal agreed with this position despite hearing an argument that the Immigration Rules breach the right to family life and principles to protect the best interests of children. The Supreme Court is expected to examine this case further next year.

Posted in UK marriage visa news
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