Changes in UK immigration rules for partners, spouses and children that came into force in July 2012 are to be challenged in parliament in an early day motion tabled by a North Ayrshire MP, Katy Clark. Two of her constituents have approached her and asked for help as they are being forced to live apart due to the husbands’ inability to prove the minimum required income, set in the changes at £18,600, with more required if children are also sponsored for a UK settlement visa by the same British citizen or legal permanent resident. In one case, the shortfall was caused because the couple were away travelling, in the other because of a change of employment. In both cases, the wife has had to return to her own country while the situation is resolved.
When the changes were first announced and several times since, the Home Office has had to defend its policy regarding income thresholds in the High Court but the changes have never been held to be unlawful. They continue to be criticised by children’s charities and other spokespersons, as the level at which the threshold was set is deemed by many to be too high. The High Court judgment mentioned this point, but the final consensus from the Justices was that the changes could stand. Ms Clark is supported in her early day motion on this occasion by the Archbishop of Westminster and the Children’s Commissioner, who are both on record as critics of the threshold amount. North Ayrshire has a higher than normal number of earners below the average threshold and it has been pointed out that in areas like this more pressure is put on families with a non-EU spouse. More flexibility in the threshold, so that it mirrored the norm of the society in which the family would live is a more equitable solution, introducing a sliding scale depending on the permanent address of the family.
One of the reasons that the changes were challenged in the High Court was that they breached Human Rights as they made a family life impossible. This was not upheld as a reason to overturn the changes, but the examples raised by Ms Clark do seem to uphold this, as in both cases the families have been separated. One thing that has not always been made clear is that financial hardship increases when a family is living apart, as the repatriated non-EU spouse must be supported wherever they are living and this costs more than one family unit would in one location. When costs of visiting are factored in, many families rightly despair that they will ever have either enough savings or a high enough income to qualify for a marriage visa application to be successful.