Proposed changes to UK family immigration

Published: 15/07/2011

A recent consultation document released by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) is likely to have far-reaching effects on the UK marriage visa application process.
With data from the UK Border Agency showing that a number of abuses of the system allow illegal immigrants to obtain a UK marriage visa or for sham marriages to take place in the UK, the consultation document’s aim is to tackle these abuses and thus reduce the burden on the UK tax payer. A clear benefit of this intervention is that sham or bogus marriages should be reduced, protecting the innocent victims in these crimes as well as preserving the values of family migration, with one of the proposals that legislation should be passed to make forced marriages a criminal offence.
Under the general umbrella of family migration, the document makes clear the government’s desire to reform the family immigration route, including workers and their family members, students under the points based system and their spouses and dependants, refugee family reunions and family visitors.
Proposals in the document that could be of note to prospective applicants include forcing established couples who have already lived together outside of the UK for four years or more to have to complete an additional five year probationary period, as opposed to the current ability to gain settlement immediately, the possibility of a stricter requirement for more extensive documentation to substantiate the marriage application, and the potential that the function of the UK Border Agency may be combined with those of marriage Registrars in terms of assessing the genuine nature of the relationship.
Family migration currently represents around 17 per cent of all non-European migration to the UK, and the family route refers to non-European nationals entering, remaining in or settling in the UK on the basis of a relationship with a British citizen or a person legally settled in the UK. This relates to fiancé(e)s, proposed civil partners, spouses, civil partners, unmarried or same sex partners and dependant children. Adult and elderly dependant relatives are also included. As such, the issues surrounding sponsors are also included in the document, with proposals including restricting the ability of these sponsored as a spouse to sponsor another spouse or partner within five years of settlement, examining the current interview arrangement for sponsors, and potentially increasing the current English language requirement for spouses from its current A1 level. It is also understood that the current full right of appeal for family visitor visas is likely to be scrapped.
There are also some financially-related proposals in the document that may impact on visa applicants, with the possible introduction of a specific minimum income requirement for both British and settled sponsors bringing family members to the UK, ostensibly for maintenance purposes, with the actual levels of necessary income likely to be announced soon. A further financial consideration is that there is a possibility that medical insurance for certain family members will be required, with the details of this proposal set to be announced following an upcoming consultation between the Home Office and the Department of Health.
As the fourth ‘shake-up’ of the UK immigration system, Home Secretary Theresa May has said that she is committed to ensuring that foreign criminals do not abuse UK human rights laws. She stated that the debate on Article 8, which is the human right to family life, is not an ‘absolute right’ when criminal activity is involved.
Much of the consultation document is dedicated to the fine line between a human right and a legal right, particularly in relation to tackling sham or bogus marriages which then give the holder the right to live and work in the UK. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8, the right to family life, is a particularly contentious clause as it has been quoted in series of cases which have been proven to be bogus.
A key part of the family migration reform proposals put forward in the document is that the UKBA wants to put foreign partners on a par with other migrants by more than doubling the time a foreign spouse must spend in the UK before they are able to be eligible for settlement. The rationale behind this proposal is that migrant partners must be fully integrated into British society before they are afforded the right to permanent residency and full access to benefits.
It is understood that the main driver for this proposal for foreign partners is that the family visa route to migration to the UK is being abused, with the UK Home Office keen to reduce the number of migrants by ‘tens of thousands’. With more than 50,000 people arriving in the UK under the family visa route in 2010 alone, including more than 8,000 dependants, the government is clear that this needs to be reduced, particularly in light of the fact that sham and bogus marriages are still a problem.
The proposal suggests that a ‘probationary period’ for new migrants should be introduced, with five years the time put forward, before settlement can be obtained, whereas the ability to apply for settlement as the foreign partner of a British citizen currently stands at just two years. With the granting of settlement allowing foreign spouses the ability to access a raft of state benefits the same as any other British citizen, the financial incentive for reducing the number of migrants is clear, especially as the UK is experiencing a period of economic difficulty and the government is implementing various cost-cutting measures.
The UK Border Agency has pointed out that there are many cases where abuses of the family migration route have taken place, including a case where a man sponsored his son and a woman he claimed was his wife, who actually turned out to be his daughter-in-law and a bogus marriage gang in Sheffield who had a ‘price list’ for sham weddings. Immigration minister Damien Green said, “For too long the family and marriage route into the UK has been abused as a way to get around our immigration laws. These cases clearly show why we need to take strong action and the proposals we outline will benefit the UK as a whole as well as individuals who would otherwise be exploited.”
Marriage Visa Help is committed to keeping you informed of any changes that may impact on your marriage visa application, with our team dedicated to ensuring we have a clear understanding of the very latest UKBA information.

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