Changes to the Immigration Rules in 2012 have had a significant impact on children and families according to a new report by the Children's Commissioner. The income requirement was increased, meaning a parent in the UK has to 'earn significantly more than the minimum wage for an overseas partner to be allowed to join them' (see press release on Skype Families). They must earn more if they wish to bring children to the UK who are subject to immigration control.
The changes mean that almost half of British adults in the UK could not meet the income requirement to be able to bring a partner to live with them. The report gives an idea of the scale of the problem as it currently exists; 'Since 2012 it is estimated that 15,000 children have been separated from one of their parents because their British parent could not meet the financial requirements of the Immigration Rules implemented in 2012.'
The full report describes the devastating consequences for parents forced to watch their children grow up on Skype as well as the psychological, emotional and behavioural effects on children.
Apparently this issue was unforeseen. Consultations on the changes, according to the report, envisaged situations where if families could not afford the income threshold they would decide to relocate or stay abroad. However, there is a broad range of reasons why a family member may seek to be in the UK, including wanting to raise their child in their home country, commitments to other family members in the UK, and pressing health concerns. The latter situation arose for one parent who describes his experience:
"when my son was three years old we realised he had a respiratory problem and the pollution was getting worse and worse. By the spring of 2012, we realised we couldn't stay there. I remember spending a whole week listening to him coughing the whole night, and if you looked out the window, you couldn't see anything but just this smoke. And in the end the decision to move was fairly rapid because he was in a bad way."
The options for that father were:
1. to live abroad with his partner, and his child whose health was being damaged by their country of residence; or
2. to return to the UK without his partner to protect their child.
The notion that British citizens would stay or relocate abroad rests on the assumption both that other states will have more hospitable immigration rules and that there are not compelling reasons for low-income families to reside in the UK.
The report states there is evidence that the income threshold 'increase[s] reliance on public funds by the [British or settled] sponsor parent.' It appears that the financial requirements have been both damaging to families and increased reliance on public funds, the opposite to what was intended.
Also highlighted is a key concern that the best interests of the child are not being considered. The report explains that during consultation on the changes there was little or no discussion of the effects on children. The best interests of the child clearly were not appropriately considered.
The best interests of the child should be considered for all applications where a child is affected, not just when a child is the applicant. This is seemingly failing to happen and we have previously highlighted that it is not just in considering the applications of parents but also in decisions to detain parents.
The problems with the 2012 changes are ones that are prevalent throughout the criticisms of the Secretary of State of the Home Department. These include a failure to be flexible, that applications are expensive (with further increases in application fees this year), and even the process of making applications being difficult.
The rules on the financial requirements are to be considered by the Supreme Court. In the meantime thousands of families continue to be separated with their hopes resting upon a favourable judgment.