BIHR’s policy intern share his views on a new report into family migration rules
Today in Parliament a group of MPs launched a report, drawing attention to the anguish of families divided by family migration rules put in place by the Government almost one year ago.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Migration, set up to “support the emergence of mainstream, progressive policy debate on migration in the UK parliament” undertook an inquiry to look at the impact of a number of changes to the migration rules made in July 2012. One major change was the introduction of a specific income threshold that the partner in the UK (“the Sponsor”) must meet for their overseas partner (“the Applicant”) to be allowed to enter the UK on the basis of this relationship. The new rules impose a ‘financial requirement’ that says that the Sponsor must have a yearly income of at least £18,600 for their partner to be allowed to join them in the UK. This is the figure when there is only one Applicant, such as a spouse, it increases if there are more applicants, including children also wish to enter the UK with their parent. Changes to the rules were also made which affect the elderly dependants or parents who live abroad being able to join their children or other relatives in the UK.
The APPG inquiry arose out of widespread concern, including across the parties in Parliament, about the impact of the new rules on peoples’ family lives and that the changes were leading to family members “being unnecessarily and unfairly separated from one another”. The APPG asked for contributions from civil society, NGOs, immigration lawyers and the general public. Almost 300 responses were received and the APPG said it was “impressed by both the amount of evidence received and its weight”.
The APPG found that there “is a strong case for these rules to be reviewed” and that British families are being unnecessarily divided by these changes, with British children having to live without their parents. The APPG also says that costs to the public purse are being incurred in ways that perhaps the government did not anticipate, as families are forced to be brought up as single-parent families reliant on state benefits and paying no taxes. If the parent who is abroad was allowed to enter the UK, they would be able to work and contribute to society or they could look after the children awhile the British partner worked. In either case, the burden on state resources would decrease and in fact the family would become tax-payers in the UK.
The APPG report also suggests that the elderly “dependent relative route appears to have all but closed”, with the effect that British people wishing to look after parents or other relatives are not allowed to do so by law. This leads to economically active individuals with family lives and careers in the UK being forced to move abroad so that they can look after their elderly parents there. The APPG says this may be “unnecessarily prohibitive and likely to have negative impacts” on the UK’s future by forcing economically active individuals to leave the UK and settle elsewhere. The APPG also received evidence about the UK’s new family migration rules being the toughest in Europe, with only Norway having a higher income threshold, and that EEA nationals can bring their non-EEA family into the UK more easily than UKL nationals can.
The APPG report also mentions the impact of the new family migration rules on children and how the government seems to have not given this aspect of the rules much attention at all. At the launch of the event, MP Sarah Teather, former Minister of State for Children and Families, said she was disappointed with this and that it seemed “silly” that other departments of the government should be working so hard to improve children’s welfare in the UK when children were ignored in immigration law in a way that directly contradicted the work that other departments were trying to do for children. It has been widely accepted that the first few months of a child’s life are crucial and this is the time children bond with their parents, so it seemed particularly strange that the government’s immigration policy was such that children were separated from parents particularly in the first few months or years of their lives.
It appears that the new family migration rules have a range of effects on families which have not been considered sufficiently. Indeed, the impacts seem to be particularly at odds with the Government’s aim, in other areas, to prioritise family life, as encompassed by the Prime Minister when he said “If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.” (15 August 2011).
The Human Rights Act means that the Government (and its agencies) must consider human rights, such as the right to respect for family life, in all aspects of law. This does not prevent the Government from having rules about migration, nor does it create a right for non-citizens to automatically be allowed to live in the UK. Rather, human rights provides a rule book for such decisions, and in particular human rights mean that the impact of decisions on people need to be considered and must be proportionate. However, as the APPG report reveals there are some very real worries that the new family migration rules may not be proportionate, having disproportionate and unintended impacts.
Attendees at the APPG event were hopeful that the report offers an opportunity to raise awareness about the family migration rule changes and their impacts, and the Government will be persuaded to review the situation.