10 Jun 2013

Immigration rules ‘causing anguish’, separating families

The new minimum income threshold of £18,600 has forced separation between thousands of British citizens and their families, says a cross-party group of MPs, which is calling for an urgent review.

The group of MPs heard evidence from 175 families and said that the new minimum earnings requirements brought in last July had separated mothers from their babies, husbands from wives and elderly relatives from their British-based offspring.

Under the new rules, a British citizen wanting to sponsor a non-EU spouse’s visa has to be earning £18,600 a year. This rises to earnings of £22,400 to sponsor a child, and £2,400 more for every additional child.

Responding to a question from Kate Green MP in the House of Commons about the report (see video above), Home Secretary Theresa May said she would consider the findings, but on the minimum earnings threshold for British sponsors, she said “it is right for the government to tighten up”.

But the inquiry into the impact of the new rules by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on migration concluded that the rules may be having unintended consequences. These include stopping high-earning non-EU spouses from living in Britiain and supporting their families, as well as impacting on British citizens who work full-time but who do not earn above the minimum threshold.

One case involved an Australian national earning £250,000 in Dubai and owning a £3.5m property in the UK, who is unable to live with his British wife and children in the UK because she is not employed in Britain.

“My current salary is well over £100,000, and I am a practising solicitor in the City of London,” one would-be UK sponsor told the committee. “I have a five-bedroom house, which I purchased with a view to getting my widowed mother to come live with me… There is no burden on the public purse – she is retired, not seeking employment, and I have the means to support her and provide for her fully.”

Separated from parents

In 45 cases, families said that the rules had forced children apart from their non-EU parent. One non-EU woman was unable to move to the UK with her British husband and two young sons, and was forced to stop breastfeeding her five-month old baby.

Liberal Democrat APPG member Sarah Teather MP said: “During the course of the inquiry, we heard from many families in which British children are being made to grow up away from a parent, or where families had been forced to move overseas in order to be together.

“Whatever the objective of the policy, children shouldn’t suffer as a result.”

MPs also heard from elderly couples who are now unable to retire in Britain because their earning are less than the threshold.

“I’m £17 a month short of the financial requirement,” said one British citizen, separated from her husband. “I served in the British Army for nine and a half years, have a first-class honours degree and my husband is also degree-educated and currently earning more than I do in the US.”

Immigration rules 'causing anguish', separating families (G)

‘I’ve had to go on benefits’

The rules were designed to drive down net migration to Britain. The Home Office also said it wanted to ensure that migration did not lead to the taxpayer footing the bill and that migrants would be supported by the family.

However in some cases, the new rules resulted in British citizens having to claim benefits. “I am a British citizen. I have an eight-month-old daughter with my Moroccan husband,” said one mother from the south east. “I have had to go on benefits for the first time in my life as I can’t afford to eat without them.”

Baroness Hamwee, chairwoman of the inquiry and Liberal Democrat home affairs lead in the House of Lords, said: “We were struck by the evidence showing just how many British people have been kept apart from partners, children and elderly relatives.

“These rules are causing anguish for families and, counter to their original objectives, may actually be costing the public purse.”

“If I was doing exactly the same job for the NHS in London I would meet the financial requirement and would be able to bring my wife here so I could carry on with my work and live a happy life,” said one person based in the West Midlands, who gave evidence.

Salary variation

The committee also heard from a number of UK sponsors in full-time employment at or above the national minimum wage who reported that they were unable to meet the income requirement. Wider evidence suggested that nearly half – or 47 per cent – of the UK working population last year would fail to meet the income level to sponsor a non-EEA partner, the committee said.

Other would-be sponsors said they were being unfairly penalised by regional variations in salaries, particularly those outside London and the south east.

The committee has called on the government to commission an independent review of the minimum income requirement, drawing on evidence of its impact. Members of the APPG on migration include Tory MP Gavin Barwell and Conservative peer Lord Boswell, Labour MP Harriet Harman and former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy MP.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our family rules have been designed to make sure that those coming to the UK to join their spouse or partner will not become a burden on the taxpayer and will be well enough supported to integrate effectively.

“High-value migrants would not be refused because their British spouse or partner was not employed.

“They can meet the income threshold by having cash savings of £62,500 or through their own private income, for example from investments.”