Home Office Immigration Minister James Brokenshire has admitted that the threshold rules regarding spouse and partner immigration visas for UK citizens and permanent residents are unfair when compared to those governing EU nationals from other member states. After the introduction of the requirements in July 2012, which insist that only those who earn a minimum of £18,600 per year can sponsor a non-EU national spouse or partner for a UK settlement visa, many couples have been forced to live apart because the sponsoring British citizen or permanent resident does not meet the minimum income threshold. These restrictions are not applicable to family members of other EEA nationals living in the UK (i.e. German, Spanish, French), so the situation has arisen where many UK residents who have lived all their lives in the country and who are unfortunately on a lower income than required, must stand by and watch as temporary residents from the EU can bring their spouse and children into the country with impunity.
What the threshold means
Since July 2012, only UK citizens or permanent residents who earn a minimum of £18,600 per annum can sponsor their family members for a settlement visa to live and work in the UK. This threshold rises for families with children; family with one child must have an income of £22,400, and for each additional child £2,400 is added. Home Affairs Committee chairman, Keith Vaz, believes that the legislation is flawed and quotes an example provided by a member of his Leicester East constituency, saying, ‘I don’t find this situation acceptable and it’s something that quite clearly needs to be addressed.’ There have been appeals relating to the threshold ruling, but none has been successful thus far. As recently as July 11, 2014, the court of appeal upheld the lawfulness of the income requirement. James Brokenshire, despite his admission of unfairness, was in favour of the court’s ruling. At the time it was handed down, he went on record; ‘We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard and make a contribution, but family life must not be established in the UK at the taxpayer’s expense and family migrants must be able to integrate.’
Families are being kept apart
The Home Office estimates that the current financial requirement prevents approximately 17,800 settlement visas from being issued every year and family charity groups and human rights spokespersons have said that this is unacceptable and goes contrary to the right to family life. However, this argument has so far failed to find favour with courts and so for now, the income threshold stays on statute. The main argument now is that there should be an end to the two tier system, as some people see it, whereby an EEA national who is exercising in the UK can bring spouse and children to live with them even if their income is very low and a lifelong UK citizen cannot, because they earn below the threshold. There is no leeway for UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) when deciding, and many people feel there should be times when the rules could be more flexible.