New family visa restrictions come into effect from 9 July 2012
Following a lengthy period of consultation, the UK Border Agency (“UKBA”) has recently announced new visa rules for partners of people settled in the UK. The rules are intended to provide a fair system, to promote integration into UK society, and to prevent migrants from being a drain on public funds. However, there is a debate as to whether the new rules will stand up to a challenge in the courts.
The main changes will take effect from 9 July and are as follows:
A minimum level of earnings is being introduced for a person settled in the UK to bring their foreign spouse and children into the country: the British partner will need to be earning at least £18,600 per year. The amount increases to £22,400 if one foreign child is involved and £2,400 per child thereafter. The rules for EU nationals remain unchanged – so by contrast, an EU citizen looking to bring their non-EU partner into the UK need only show that they can meet their costs of living here.
At present a foreign spouse can settle in the UK after living here with their British partner for two years – this period will be increased to five years to encourage better integration into UK society. Partners will therefore have to apply for at least three visas – one to enter the UK for two and a half years, a second to extend their visa for a further two and a half years, and then a third to settle in the UK.
Under the existing rules, where a British citizen and their foreign partner have lived together abroad for over four years, the spouse can apply for an indefinite UK visa immediately upon moving to the UK. Under the new rules, this will no longer be an option and the partner will need to live in the UK for five years on temporary visas as above.
One practical effect of this will be that it will cost substantially more since the price of applying for each visa is £826. This may prove an expensive pill to swallow for future applicants.
The availability of visas for elderly dependant family members will be heavily restricted – in practical terms, very few people will now qualify for such visas.
Most prominent is the introduction of a minimum level of earnings. At present, the family need only show that they can support themselves without help from public funds. While this requires the UKBA to investigate applications more thoroughly, it allows for flexibility for different situations (for example someone with a low income), but very low living costs. The UKBA will no longer take into account the foreign partner’s current or future earnings - even if they have a job offer in the UK (although cash savings can in some cases be used to make up for a shortfall).
While there is an exemption for UK citizens who are on disability benefits, the new rules are likely to prevent many people on a low income from bringing their partner into the country – even if they would have no need for public funds. While it is important to prevent benefits abuse, this approach is highly likely to be challenged on human rights grounds. It also raises the bizarre situation where it is easier for an EU citizen to bring their non-EU partner into the UK than it is for a British citizen to do so.
The full update from the UKBA can be found by clicking here.
If you have any questions about this article, or any other immigration issues, please contact Dan Jones, a Solicitor in our Corporate Immigration Team.
This article provides only a general summary and is not intended to be comprehensive. Specific legal advice should be taken in any individual application. Law covered as at June 2012.