The Minimum Income Requirement introduced by the Government in 2012 means that Britons who want to return home with their husband or wife must provide evidence of an annual income of at least £18,600 or have a minimum of £62,500 in savings, held for six months, if their spouse does not hold an European Economic Area passport. The requirements are even higher if the family has children.
Approximately 18,000 families are affected every year by these stringent criteria, resulting in husbands and wives, as well as parents and children, being split up.
These measures appear to be impacting upon the Government's traditional support base, with the Telegraph reporting that the Government is under fire from expats for putting what are deemed to be 'unreasonable obstacles' in the way of Britons wishing to return home with spouses not holding a European Economic Area passport.
The UK threshold is now one of the highest globally. A stark contrast can be seen in the financial requirements to enter the United States - commonly believed to have some of the most difficult visa demands - necessitating an annual income of just £12,654.
Prior to the introduction of the new regulations 3 years ago, the requirements for a UK citizen bringing in a spouse to reside were much less strict. Guidelines stated that it should be demonstrated that the relocation of the spouse was possible without relying on taxpayer support - approximately £5,500 a year after tax.
The Home Office argues that these measures are in the public interest, and are necessary to control the flow of immigrants into the country and to ensure that all family migrants entering the UK are financially independent. The Government has, of course, committed itself to the ambition of reducing annual net migration to the tens of thousands during the life of this Parliament - the latest figures show that annual net migration was 318,000 in 2014. The Minimum Income Requirement is one of the means by which the Government hopes to achieve this ambition.
Colin Yeo of Garden Court Chambers told The Telegraph that as many as 43 per cent of employees in the UK currently fall short of the threshold set by the Government.
Many UK citizens have found it impossible to successfully return home with families from outside of the EU due to the complicated and convoluted nature of these financial requirements. Some have referred to the system as 'nonsensical', arguing that their spouses are skilled professionals, who could be contributing a great deal in taxes to the UK.
Others have condemned the 'draconian system' as a breach of the right to a family life, particularly in cases where an individual has become ill, and been rendered unable to work enough to generate the income required by the Home Office, meaning their spouse faces deportation.
The draconian effect of the Minimum Income Requirement contributed to the UK coming bottom out of 38 countries for family reunion in theMigrant Integration Policy Index 2015. The report stated:
"Separated families now face the least 'family-friendly' immigration policies in the developed world: the longest delays and highest income, language and fee levels, one of the few countries with language test abroad and restricted access to benefits."
A spokesman of the Migrants' Rights Network told the Telegraph that such rules are splitting British families apart and are a 'shocking infringement' of the basic right to live with your family in your country of birth.
The group is calling for the rules to be changed, alleging that the Government has set the bar too high in its "narrow pursuit of lower net migration levels".
In 2013, the High Court ruled that the level at which the Minimum Income Requirement had been set amounted to a disproportionate interference with the right to respect for family life under Article 8 ECHR if combined with one of the four other requirements in the Immigration Rules. That judgment was overturned by the Court of Appeal in July 2014. However, permission to appeal was granted by the Supreme Court on 19 May 2015. Those who are unable to meet the current Minimum Income Requirement will be anxiously awaiting the outcome of this appeal.