Last summer the government introduced new rules on family reunification, including a minimum income requirement for anyone hoping to bring a partner to Britain from anywhere outside the European Economic Area. The pernicious effects were quickly obvious and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration launched an inquiry in November. Its findings are published today.
The new rules state that UK nationals or permanent residents hoping to sponsor a spouse or partner from abroad must have a minimum annual income of £18,600. If the spouse or partner is living abroad, their income at the moment or any potential future income in the UK does not count towards meeting the threshold. Cash savings can be factored in, but the starting point is £16,000, banked for six months before the application: if you have only £16,000 in the bank, your savings component is nil. As far as I can see, your net worth – in the form of a property you share with your bank, for instance – cannot be factored in to the new requirements for family reunion.
So, for example, the husband of a British woman who inherited a mortgaged flat in the Midlands, worked for five years, left for the US, met and married a US citizen, and then returned to pursue a postgraduate degree, would not be able to bring her husband to the UK. The partner of another British citizen who had served nine years in the army and wanted to bring her husband – ‘currently earning more than I do overseas’ – to live with her in Yorkshire might as well forget it. (Most applications for non-EEA partners to come to Britain are made by women; Home Office figures show that 66 per cent of non-EEA men arriving via family ties find work ‘compared to 64 per cent for all UK males’.) Most healthcare workers will not be eligible either.
If you want to sponsor a child as well as a partner – you’re probably a man in this case – the minimum income requirement rises to £22,400, with a further £2400 for each additional child. It is now extremely difficult to bring in adult dependents – the ageing parent of a doctor in Perth, an only child, must be left to her own devices in India.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group are worried by the new rules. At least 45 per cent of working people in Britain would fail to meet the income threshold to bring in a non-EEA partner. And it seems odd that a British couple both working flat out on the minimum wage – a joint income of £26,000 – would, with childcare costs for two children subtracted, fall below the ‘new rules’ threshold for family reunion.
In Article 16 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ‘family values’ that politicians like to invoke are non-negotiable. In Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, they can be set against national security or the economic health of a country. Clearly the government thinks it’s reached the right position. But in practice the right to family life is now up for sale. The APPG and its secretariat, Migrants' Rights Network, are calling for an independent review of the minimum income requirement.