In July 2012, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) introduced a minimum income threshold for British citizens and UK permanent residents wishing to sponsor a non-EU national to enter the country on a UK fiancee visa, UK marriage visa or UK partner visa. This was set at £18,600 a year, rising to £22,400 for a family with one child, with another £2,400 payable for every additional child in included in the settlement visa application. This has caused hardship to many, especially those who had met and married abroad, never dreaming that the British partner would one day be effectively exiled from home due to financial issues. The UK Border Agency has come under criticism for these changes.
It has been reported that thousands of couples have been unable to reunite in the UK since July 2012 when the minimum income threshold requirement came into force. MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, which is calling for an urgent review of the rule, looked at over 175 cases relating to families who have been directly disadvantaged since July 2012. In over a quarter of the cases, children have been separated from their non-EU parent, including in one case a baby of only five months, who was separated from its mother whilst still being breastfed.
The self-employed are particularly hard hit, with proof of income being difficult to establish to the satisfaction of the UKBA. In one case, a British woman, pregnant with her Japanese husband’s baby, is uncertain how much longer he will be able to stay in the UK with her, despite her very successful design company and substantial savings. Her earnings, which come to considerably more than the threshold required, come from four different sources but because of loopholes in the accounting system, only one is counted, leaving the couple with a shortfall. Although neither of them has ever claimed benefits and live very comfortably on her income, he is likely to be deported before the baby is born and will not be able to return for at least nine months. Naturally, they are distraught.
Some people were caught out by the changes when they were living abroad and now cannot come home. One such man, living with his American wife in Texas, is the main carer for their two children. Although his wife will be coming to England on a transfer of jobs with a major worldwide bank, as the UK citizen it is her husband who must have the income to sponsor her and their two children and he has no income with which to do it – the family are willing to change their lifestyle which has served them well and the British husband in seeking employment in the UK but until he is successful, they may well be parted and his wife’s job may also be forfeit, which must be seen as a pointless waste of UKBA administration time as well as distressing for the family.
All cases can be appealed, but this in itself is costly and time consuming and calls are coming from many quarters to re-assess the rule to see if it can be rewritten to allow for the anomalies which seem to be cropping up all the time. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration group heard from UK sponsors who are in full-time employment but because they only earn the national minimum wage are unable to meet the income requirement. Statistics show that in fact 47% of the UK working population last year would not be able to meet the income level required to sponsor a non-European Economic Area (EEA) partner.
Many people have been distressed by the phrase ‘high-value migrant’ in terms of exceptions being made to the sponsorship level rule. When a family is being split and parents separated from their children, it is insulting to consider that one person is more ‘high-value’ than another and the general consensus is that instead of putting a monetary price on a person’s head, each case should be assessed on its merits.