EU Referendum

Reality Check: Can EU citizens bring family from outside the EU?

Jerry asking: "How should I vote to ensure my Thai wife and daugher will be allowed to continue living in the UK?"

The question: Jerry emailed the BBC to ask: "How should I vote to ensure my Thai wife and daughter will be allowed to continue living in the UK with me as a family?"

Reality Check verdict: We can't advise you how to vote, but we can shine some light on immigration rules in this area. EU citizens can bring their families from outside the EU. It is easier for them to do so than for UK citizens. A rule change introduced by the UK government in 2012 created this discrepancy.

As part of the EU's freedom of movement rules, all EU citizens have the right to bring close or dependent family members from outside the European Union to live with them. You might think that UK citizens would be able to take advantage of this rule, but at the moment they can't.

Although UK citizens are of course also EU citizens, they are not considered to be exercising their right to free movement while they are in their home country so this regulation doesn't kick in. Instead more complex and onerous UK immigration law takes over.

Since 2012, UK citizens have had to meet a minimum income threshold of £18,600 a year, or cash savings above £16,000, to bring a partner into the country.

This rises to £22,400 if you are bringing a dependent child with you and a further £2,400 for each additional child. The minimum income threshold, which is above the national minimum wage, has been challenged in the Supreme Court and is currently awaiting judgement.

'Qualified person'

EU citizens in the UK have the comparatively easier task of proving they are a "qualified person" - that is, working, self-employed, job-seeking, studying or self-sufficient.

Because they are being regulated under EU law, the UK government is not allowed to impose a minimum income threshold on its EU national residents and their families.

Under the more relaxed EU rules, spouses and civil partners of EU citizens, children under 21 or who are otherwise dependent, and dependent parents and grandparents will all automatically be granted entry as long as their EU relative has the right to live and work in the UK.

UK citizens can bring in spouses, civil partners and children from outside the EU (subject to the financial criteria outlined above), but it is more difficult to bring in what the Home Office terms an "adult dependent relative". Their cases will be considered but it's generally easier as an EU citizen to bring your non-EU grandparents into the country than for a UK citizen.

There were 30,879 family permits issued to non-EEA (European Economic Area) relatives of EEA citizens living in the UK in the year to March 2016.

This is the main route for non-EU family members of EU citizens, excluding Brits, to enter the UK.

A small additional number may have entered through other routes, for example those who have permanent residence in another member state before coming to the UK.

It should be noted it was a change in British law which caused the minimum income disparity. Before the new immigration rules came in in July 2012 it was much easier to bring in family members as a Brit.

The way has also been paved to level out this discrepancy in the renegotiation deal. In this White Paper, the government committed to legislation which would mean that non-EU nationals who marry EU nationals living in the UK will also need to meet British immigration rules. In other words, it will become harder for EU migrants to bring in non-EU family members, rather than easier for UK citizens to do so.

However, this change if brought in would only apply to EU citizens living long-term in the UK when they marry a non-EU citizen. It would not affect a newly arrived EU migrant with a non-EU spouse - they will still only be subject to EU law. But for Brits worrying about their non-EU family members' right to stay in the UK, that's a decision that rests with the UK government.

Read more: The facts behind claims in the EU debate

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