UK's new visa rules 'causing anguish' for families

Official stamps a passport The parliamentary group says immigration rules are too restrictive and a review is needed

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New financial rules for migrants from outside the European Union are tearing UK families apart and causing anguish, a group of MPs and peers have said.

They said thousands of Britons had been unable to bring a non-EU spouse to the UK since July 2012, when minimum earnings requirements were introduced.

Children have also been separated from a parent, the parliamentary group said.

The Home Office said the rules were designed to ease the burden of migration on the taxpayer.

Under rules that came into force a year ago only British citizens who can show they earn at least £18,600 a year can sponsor their non-European spouse's visa. This rises to £22,400 for families with a child, and a further £2,400 for each further child.

The inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, which is calling for an independent review of the minimum income requirement, looked at more than 175 cases from families affected by the rules.

Forty-five claimed their inability to meet the income threshold had led to the separation of children, including British children, from a non-EU parent, the group said.

In one case, a woman from outside Europe had been separated from her British husband and two sons, including a five-month-old baby she had been breastfeeding.

Douglas Shillinglaw, from Kent, is among those to have been affected. His wife is in Lagos, Nigeria, with his five-month old son and her six-year-old son from another relationship.

Mr Shillinglaw, a self-employed mortgage broker for two years, told the BBC he was being "judged like an employed person".

"Self-employed income is different from employed income. I have got enough money to pay my mortgage and bills, and that should be enough," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"And should anything happen to me, I have a family that will take care of them. My family are wholeheartedly behind what I am doing."

Mark Reckless, Conservative MP on the home affairs select committee, said the government had promised to bring down net immigration and it had done so by "bearing down" on bogus colleges, caps on work visas and reforms on family immigration.

"If you are bringing someone into the country, then you should be expected to support that person without recourse to public expense," he told Today.

"Over time, it might be possible that the regulations could be adjusted. There will be hard cases and we learn in light of those experiences."

'Children shouldn't suffer'

The group also heard from a number of UK sponsors in full-time employment at or above the national minimum wage who reported that they were unable to meet the income requirement.

Wider evidence suggested that 47% of the UK working population last year would have failed to meet the income level to sponsor a non-European Economic Area partner, the group said.

By the government's own estimate, almost 18,000 British people will be prevented from being reunited with their spouse or partner in the UK every year as a result of the new rules, it added.

Baroness Hamwee, chairwoman of the inquiry and Liberal Democrat home affairs lead in the House of Lords, said the parliamentary group had been "struck by the evidence showing just how many British people have been kept apart from partners, children and elderly relatives".

"These rules are causing anguish for families and, counter to their original objectives, may actually be costing the public purse," she said.

Liberal Democrat group member Sarah Teather MP said that "whatever the objective of the policy, children shouldn't suffer as a result".

A Home Office spokesman said the rules had been designed to make sure those coming to the UK to join their spouse or partner would not become a burden on the taxpayer and would be well enough supported to integrate effectively.

"High-value migrants would not be refused because their British spouse or partner was not employed," he said.

"They can meet the income threshold by having cash savings of £62,500 or through their own private income, for example from investments. We have also introduced greater flexibility for those holding investments to liquidate them into cash in order to meet the rules."

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