Second to none: family reunification in the United Kingdom
21 September 2012
As of 9 July 2012, the United Kingdom now has the second most stringent financial requirements of all major Western countries for those who wish to reunite with a non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) spouse or partner. Only Norway has a higher income threshold.
In Impact Assessment HO0065, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) has estimated that 45% of British citizens and those persons settled in the UK would not be able to meet the Immigration Rules' new minimum income threshold of £18,600 per annum. This translates into 45% of non-EEA nationals no longer being able to successfully apply to enter or remain in the UK as a spouse or partner.
The Migration Observatory of Oxford University approximates that, of British citizens in employment, 61% of women and 47% of all British citizens in employment will not qualify to bring in a family member under the new changes.
The Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) has produced an informative chart which compares and contrasts the approximate income required for British citizens and those persons settled in the UK to reunite with their spouse or partner:
For British citizens and non-EEA citizens who are settled in the UK, i.e. the sponsor, who want to reunite with a non-EEA spouse or partner who is applying from outside the UK, it is the sponsor's income alone that will be considered by the UKBA. To reunite with not only a spouse or partner, but also with children, the minimum income threshold of £18,600 increases with each child dependant.
As a result, the new minimum income threshold of the Immigration Rules has now left British citizens with less favourable rights than EEA citizens who are exercising their treaty rights in the UK.
With regard to finances, non-EEA citizens applying for an EEA family permit to join their self-sufficient EEA family member may simply show that their sponsor has 'sufficient funds to maintain themselves and their family members for the period of their residence in the UK'.
In terms of social and emotional impact on families, research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has shown that every year a child spends in the country of origin, i.e. in this instance outside of the UK and away from one of their parents, has a particularly negative impact on their social integration as well as their assessment results and language abilities.
The government has stressed that it 'believes that strong and stable families of all kinds are the bedrock of a strong and stable society'. However, these latest and inflexible financial requirements under the family migration route of the Immigration Rules are hardly conducive to preserving and promoting 'strong and stable' families. Rather, they are bound to result in unfavourable circumstances such as enforced separation.
The recent changes to the Immigration Rules were intended to address 'the right to family life', to 'promote integration and community cohesion', and to 'improve public confidence in the immigration system'. The government and policy advisors should re-examine whether the high-income thresholds do in fact meet these policy objectives or whether they only intensify them.