16 February 2015
Home Office Immigration Minister James Brokenshire has recently gone on record as admitting that the spouse immigration rules as they currently stand are unfair to British citizens and permanent residents who wish to bring their foreign partner or spouse to live with them in the UK on a permanent basis. They are bound by immigration rules which set a minimum income threshold before a settlement visa would be granted. EEA nationals living in the UK can bring a non-EU spouse into the country as the financial requirements do not apply to anyone who is not a UK citizen or permanent resident.
Thousands of visas have been refused on financial grounds alone
When the new rules came into effect in July 2012 there were immediate court cases brought, culminating in the High Court’s decision that though not in itself unlawful, the amount set was too high in relation to the reasonable salary expectations of the average British citizen. Although the rule was upheld, there was a large backlog which was created while all cases which were pending with queries on financial grounds alone were put on hold and this caused hardship for a number of applicants. The unfairness comes in because, while British citizens and UK legal permanent residents cannot bring in their spouses because of lack of means, they must stand by and watch EU citizens do just the same thing, but with impunity, no matter what their earning capacity. This has clearly caused a lot of ill feeling and distress.
Appeals have so far been fruitless
There is no chance at the moment that the threshold rule will be overturned any time soon and so many families continue to be separated. Some have used loopholes in EU law which mean they can become migrant workers in another EU state and thus bring in their spouse under what is known as the ‘Surinder Singh’ provision, but of course this is not a choice open to everyone and can be ultimately more disruptive to family life. What some MPs are asking is that the rules applying to other EU residents be extended to apply to UK citizens too, not in every criteria, but on financial grounds alone. No one seems to be arguing that families should be allowed to become a burden on the taxpayer, but there is a very real push from many MPs that the financial rule should be removed or, at the very least made more flexible and adaptable to individual circumstances.
EU rules on immigration differ across the community
The financial rules are not the only differences across member states and there have been questions asked in Parliament about these dichotomies for some time. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) are stringent in their vetting processes and settlement partner, spousal and fiancée visa applications are refused on many different grounds which would not have resulted in a refusal in another member country. No one likes to feel that they are being treated less fairly than their neighbours and it is likely that this issue will continue to raise adverse criticism for as long as the differences are allowed to remain.