FAMILY IMMIGRATION: THE DEBATE PART ONE

Earlier this week, we published a summary of the Government’s changes to UK Family Immigration, most of which will come into force on the 9th July 2012. 

We recommend that any migrants or UK citizens who wish to sponsor non-EEA family members to live in the UK should take action as quickly as possible in view of the limited time left before these changes take effect.  Guidance should be sought where necessary to ensure that dependant visa applications are submitted as swiftly and efficiently as possible. 

Over the next week we intend to analyse and debate the key changes through a series of posts.  Beginning with the new minimum income thresholds, we will examine the changes to settlement requirements, sponsorship of adult dependent relatives, long term routes to settlement and Theresa May’s controversial comments regarding Article 8 ECHR.

We invite you to comment and discuss along with us…

Minimum Salary Thresholds

We have previously reported the recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in November 2011, who suggested that a minimum salary of between £18,600 and £25,700 should be imposed for a British citizen or settled person wishing to sponsor spouses or partners and children to live in the UK.  The Home Secretary Theresa May clearly wished to utilise the higher end of this salary scale, as evidenced by her leaked letter to the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. 

However, the final decision has been to impose a minimum income threshold of £18,600 for those wishing to sponsor the settlement of a spouse or partner.  This figure will be increased for the additional sponsorship of migrant children who are aged 18 or less.  To sponsor their spouse and one child, the British national or settled person will need to be earning a minimum of £22,400, and an extra £2,400 for each additional child.  Furthermore, there can be no account taken of any cash savings or income belonging to the migrant spouse or partner, which includes discounting any prospective earnings, and financial support from third parties cannot be accepted.  The financial requirement will apply until the migrant spouse qualifies for settlement after 5 years of living lawfully in the UK.

Theresa May stated in a recent BBC interview with Andrew Marr that she believes the figures above are appropriate because non-EEA nationals who are brought into the country to form a family ‘should not be reliant on the state.’  Yet the fact is that the present immigration requirements already preclude non-EEA nationals from bringing migrant family members to the UK if they do not have sufficient maintenance funds to support them.  Additionally, in most cases, migrants are specifically disentitled from claiming benefits such as the Jobseekers Allowance.  There already exist, therefore, safeguards to prevent migrant family members from becoming a burden on state funds. 

We are offered no explanation from the Home Secretary as to how the additional level of funds for sponsoring children was established.  In her interview, the comment is only ‘we think it right that because obviously there are costs involved in children as well that the income should be increased.’  A more detailed account of how such figures, which will undoubtedly cause alarm within many families, were calculated, would be very welcome.

There have been comments in the press which suggest it is unfair that we are restricting British citizens in this way, when EEA Nationals have the right to come to the UK and can also bring their non-EEA dependants to live here, without the need to meet any income threshold.  Given the current economic climate, where highly paid jobs are scarce and many individuals are taking salary cuts or having to change employment, it does seem controversial that the Government has chosen to impose this requirement on British citizens who may find it impossible to meet the thresholds.

It is true that for many non-EEA nationals who come to the UK to live and work, the new income requirement should not prevent such individuals from sponsoring dependants to join them.  This is because the minimum salary threshold for Tier 2 General currently stands at £20,000, or the appropriate rate for the job as stated in the Tier 2 Codes of Practice.  Therefore, most non-EEA migrants should find that they are able to meet the new thresholds and they will be able to sponsor their spouses or children to settle here.

Therefore, it does seem as though this particular change will fall most heavily on Britons who perhaps travel abroad, meet their future husband or wife, and are then caught out upon realising they are not earning enough for a partner to join them in the UK. 

We will await with interest any further clarification from the Home Office on why these particular salary levels were selected, and how they intend to justify the potential unfairness of Britons and settled persons being denied the opportunity to bring their spouses, partners, or even children, to the UK.

 

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