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.