Protests grow over £18,600 income threshold for settlement visas

9 July 2015

Since rules setting out minimum salaries for those wishing to bring a non-EU partner or spouse into the UK on a settlement visa were introduced in July 2012, an estimated 33,000 people remain unable to reunite with their loved ones and protests are growing. The level of £18,600 is not achievable for many people, although it is below the national average income in Britain. The problem applies in a large part to couples with children who wish a foreign spouse to join them and also those who are in further education. Many of those protesting at the moment have met as students and so they face a stark choice of staying in the UK alone or joining their spouse in their home country and the argument is offered that this means they take their mainly taxpayer funded further education qualifications with them.

The point of the legislation has always been presented as preventing families of UK citizens and legal permanent residents entering the country only to be a burden on the state at an estimated cost of around £650 million. However, research from Middlesex University has found that if the spouses had been able to enter the country and find appropriate work, the contribution would be over £850 million. Such figures are always difficult to prove, especially when there are so many variables to consider, but the protesters are adamant in one thing – the minimum salary requirement is set too high, even more so when the extra amounts for children are added into the calculation.

As soon as the financial requirements were announced and became law in July 2012, the Home Office faced a raft of cases from all side, many funded by charities dedicated to ironing out inequalities in immigration law. The main thrust of the cases were that the levels of income set violated people’s right to family life and as such were against the Human Rights Act as it is normally understood. The High Court found in favour of the Home Office, though not without certain recommendations. As a result, other cases followed. The final ones are still to be heard in the Supreme Court, due to begin final decision-making this September. This will coincide with a report from children’s commissioner Anne Longfield which will examine the effects of the law on children separated from a parent.

Surinder Singh route: EU ‘loophole’

There is a way that a non-EU family member can enter the country without fulfilling the financial criteria and that is to enter from another EU member country with their British partner or spouse. Some families have chosen to take this path, with the UK citizen needing to work in another EU member state to establish residency before returning to the UK. This is not an option open to everyone of course and some couples have chosen to remain apart while fighting the situation while yet others have returned to the country of the foreign spouse. Whatever path they have taken, all 33,000 people will be watching the Supreme Court’s ruling with avid interest.

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