The Government claims that families form the ‘bedrock’ of a strong and stable society, but recent changes to immigration rules concerning family migration threaten to tear as many as 15,000 families apart. In their continuing effort to decrease net migration to the UK from its current level of over 250,000 to the ‘tens of thousands’ by the 2015 general election, the Conservatives have announced these changes concerning the entry and settlement of non-EEA family members in the UK, including a significantly higher income threshold for UK sponsors. In her statement to the House of Commons on June 11, Theresa May outlined the full changes affecting those who wish to bring loved ones to live in the UK.
What are the changes?
- The new requirement to sponsor a spouse is an annual income of £18,600 before tax. This is a significant increase from the previous threshold of £5,500. For families with one child the income threshold rises to £22,400, and again by £2,400 for each additional child.
- Support from third parties will no longer be accepted to meet the income threshold.
- The minimum probationary period for a non-EEA spouse or partner will be extended from two to five years.
- All people applying to settle in the UK will be required to pass an intermediate level English language test and a ‘Life in the UK’ test as of October 2013.
- The ability of non-EEA adult and elderly dependent relatives to settle in the UK will be limited to those who require long-term personal care that can only be provided by their relative here. They must apply from overseas.
- Finally, the right of appeal for people who have been refused family visas will be removed.
Full details on the proposed changes are available on the UKBA website.
Who will be affected?
Specific social groups will suffer disproportionately from these policy changes. The Migration Observatory estimates that 47% of British citizens in employment would not qualify to bring in a family member under the new immigration rules. For those who happen to fall in love with someone from outside Europe, it will be difficult or impossible to build their family life here. Among those particularly affected are:
Low-income British families
- These policy changes directly affect UK citizens who are unable to meet the income requirements to qualify to bring their family from outside of Europe. Paradoxically, however, non-British EEA migrants will not be affected by the earnings requirement due to provisions within European law. While UK citizens not meeting the requirement will have to choose between exile overseas or separation from their spouses and partners, German or Spanish citizens would be able to bring family members to the UK without meeting any income threshold.
Young people (under 30) and Women
- Since their earning potential falls at the lower end of the income scale, the number of individuals affected by the income threshold jumps to 58% among young people.
- Similarly, as much as 61% of women would be unable to sponsor a spouse.[/ul]
People living outside of London
- The figures also vary widely by region. Currently, 48% of Scottish residents and 51% of Welsh residents do not earn enough to meet the government’s new income requirement, while a comparatively lower number of Londoners (26%) would be affected by the rule changes. [/ul]
- The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants’ recent dossier reveals how ordinary events like accidents at work and pregnancy can make it difficult for British citizens to meet these income requirements so their families can join them in the UK.
- In an already unequal world, such requirements introduce another level of injustice for low-income families by implying that the value of your family life is measured by the figures in your bank account.
Family life is not a privilege of the wealthy
Wealth has always afforded certain privileges, but under the Government’s increasingly draconian immigration regime, the right to family life is rapidly being transformed into a privilege that can be bought. Family reunion in the UK cannot be viewed solely in economic terms. The ethical and moral dimensions of these policies have been largely ignored in official discussions and reports. It is vital that we highlight the many ways these rule changes detrimentally affect British families, and ultimately, society as a whole. Further, the voices that must be heard are not limited to those of MPs and government officials. The lives of migrants, and the British citizens who love them, must also be considered.
This blog is the first in a series that seeks to explore the Government’s decision and its potential effects on families in the UK from the perspective of migrants. Watch this space in the coming weeks for more coverage on the rule changes.
If you or a loved one has been impacted by the recent changes and would be willing to share your story, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.