Changes to income threshold for family visas challenged in Parliament

1 October 2014

Recent High Court decisions have failed to overturn the changes in UK settlement partner and marriage visa application policy which came into effect in July 2012, but Katy Clark, who is the MP for North Ayrshire, has tabled an early day motion to challenge the current UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) financial requirement, based on the hardship she has seen caused to members of her constituency. The changes were mainly to do with earnings threshold of British citizens and permanent residents sponsoring partners, spouses and children who were non-EU nationals. The minimum income threshold was deemed by many to be set too high in the first place at £18,600 per annum, with more being added if children were also to be included in a settlement visa application. The High Court did rule that the amount may be inappropriate but in the end did not rule the changes were unlawful, meaning that they stand. As a result, thousands of unresolved fiancee, partner and spousal visa applications were put on hold, but these are now back in the system.

Many couples struggle to reach the threshold on one income and until the visas are granted, only the British partner is allowed to work. The irony of this is that if the second partner could get a visa and be allowed to earn as well, the family could manage very well and would not become a burden on the state, the situation that the government brought in the changes to avoid. Couples are being needlessly separated because if the resident’s circumstances change while the settlement application is being processed by UK Visas & Immigration – UKVI (formerly the UK Border Agency – UKBA), the non-EU partner must leave the country when leave to remain expires. A break in work pattern does not necessarily prove that the resident partner cannot earn sufficiently to support a family. One example quoted by Ms Clark involves a couple who chose to travel for some time before settling down. Because of this, the salary threshold has not been reached and so the non-EU resident (in this case, a New Zealander) cannot obtain a spousal visa to remain permanently in the UK.

Ms Clark is not hopeful that her early day motion that the changes in July 2012 were unlawful will succeed in overturning the law, but she has support from many quarters, including the Archbishop of Westminster and the Children’s Commissioner. No one argues that there should be a threshold on earnings so that foreign partners, spouses and children can be cared for economically by the UK resident, but they argue that the bar is set too high – although the average national income is £26k per annum, this is by no means the amount earned by the majority and many struggle to come even close to the £18,600 threshold. Children’s charities and the many families who are separated by the changes to the rules will watch Ms Clark’s motion with interest.

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