Family Values

Jeremy Harding

Last summer the government introduced new rules on family reunification, including a minimum income requirement for anyone hoping to bring a partner to Britain from anywhere outside the European Economic Area. The pernicious effects were quickly obvious and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration launched an inquiry in November. Its findings are published today.

The new rules state that UK nationals or permanent residents hoping to sponsor a spouse or partner from abroad must have a minimum annual income of £18,600. If the spouse or partner is living abroad, their income at the moment or any potential future income in the UK does not count towards meeting the threshold. Cash savings can be factored in, but the starting point is £16,000, banked for six months before the application: if you have only £16,000 in the bank, your savings component is nil. As far as I can see, your net worth – in the form of a property you share with your bank, for instance – cannot be factored in to the new requirements for family reunion.

So, for example, the husband of a British woman who inherited a mortgaged flat in the Midlands, worked for five years, left for the US, met and married a US citizen, and then returned to pursue a postgraduate degree, would not be able to bring her husband to the UK. The partner of another British citizen who had served nine years in the army and wanted to bring her husband – ‘currently earning more than I do overseas’ – to live with her in Yorkshire might as well forget it. (Most applications for non-EEA partners to come to Britain are made by women; Home Office figures show that 66 per cent of non-EEA men arriving via family ties find work ‘compared to 64 per cent for all UK males’.) Most healthcare workers will not be eligible either.

If you want to sponsor a child as well as a partner – you’re probably a man in this case – the minimum income requirement rises to £22,400, with a further £2400 for each additional child. It is now extremely difficult to bring in adult dependents – the ageing parent of a doctor in Perth, an only child, must be left to her own devices in India.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group are worried by the new rules. At least 45 per cent of working people in Britain would fail to meet the income threshold to bring in a non-EEA partner. And it seems odd that a British couple both working flat out on the minimum wage – a joint income of £26,000 – would, with childcare costs for two children subtracted, fall below the ‘new rules’ threshold for family reunion.

In Article 16 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ‘family values’ that politicians like to invoke are non-negotiable. In Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, they can be set against national security or the economic health of a country. Clearly the government thinks it’s reached the right position. But in practice the right to family life is now up for sale. The APPG and its secretariat, Migrants' Rights Network, are calling for an independent review of the minimum income requirement.


  • 10 June 2013 at 11:48am
    semitone says:
    It's interesting to note the discrepancy between these requirements (I'm guessing someone in Government sees these as something like "the minimum you can get by on and not be a drain on the State") and what the DWP thinks is an adequate weekly social security allowance.

    And, in an even less interesting comment - I think the third paragraph would be easier to read if you got rid of "the husband of" and "the partner of".

    Full disclosure: I am a migrant (ancestry visa, though I now have permanent leave to remain) who moved here to be with (and marry) my girlfriend. My savings were less than £16k, her salary a bit more. It was tougher than I expected, but not so difficult that we couldn't have managed on less than the minimum requirements you mention (an immigrant on an ancestry visa has "no recourse to public funds", so I paid NI and could vote, but wasn't eligible for benefits).

  • 10 June 2013 at 3:12pm
    streetsj says:
    As with the argument on Bulgarian/Romanian immigants, I can't tell whether you are against the principle or the specific numbers. Should there be no test?

    @Semitone, nice point about the difference between the views of different departments - presumably the spread between buyers and sellers.
    Does your comment that it was tough but not so difficult mean that you don't disagree with the levels/policy?

    • 11 June 2013 at 12:42pm
      semitone says: @ streetsj
      Well, I'm not opposed to the principle of restrictions on immigration, of course. But it looks like hypocrisy if the Government is telling potential migrants "you need this amount to live on and not be a burden" while clearly having no problems with many of its citizens living on much less.

      Anyway, the levels as they are set would have stopped me from moving here, and as everything has turned out well enough I'd say yes, the requirements are unnecessarily stringent. And unemployment benefits are too low!

      But this is anecdote not analysis, and I'm working from a position of ignorance. And in that vein, I really just wish this argument would go away: surely immigration is not as big a problem (it may even be of net benefit to the UK) as plenty of preventable wrongs (PPI, tax avoidance and evasion, inefficient or inappropriate public subsidies to private enterprise) that don't play as well to low-information voters and thus don't get the same exposure.

      We need immigration policy that can keep up with the changing times: if the lrb personals column is going to be accessible to internet users in Australia, you're going to have to accept that a few of us will want to move here.

    • 11 June 2013 at 4:52pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ semitone
      Are you implying you met your wife via the LRB personals?

    • 12 June 2013 at 8:04am
      semitone says: @ Harry Stopes
      Well, yeah ... doesn't everybody?

    • 12 June 2013 at 4:36pm
      ejh says: @ semitone
      No, I met mine via the Guardian personals.

    • 27 June 2013 at 6:57pm
      isabellamacfar says: @ ejh
      i've tried both and had no luck so far, should i keep trying?

  • 10 June 2013 at 7:59pm
    causticwally says:
    " practice the right to family life is now up for sale."

    Seems about the rights assessment of this policy. Another example of Adam Smith's 'vile maxim of the masters' 'Everything for the rich - the poor, nothing!' Apparently not even dignity in their choices on family life....

    • 13 June 2013 at 3:23pm
      John Cowan says: @ causticwally
      Or as Norman Mailer says in Ancient Evenings, if the poor didn't know how to put a curse on their excrement, not even that would belong to them.

  • 14 June 2013 at 4:52am
    rwhalley says:
    I must be very naive. You're seriously telling me that I, a British citizen resident in the U.S. for the past 25 years has no way of returning to Britain with my wife and daughter should we decide we'd like to do that? I guess I assumed there couldn't possibly be any issues involved in this, especially monetary ones.
    I do have elderly parents and there is a definite possibility that I might want to return at some point to be closer to them and/or to take care of them. So I have to leave my family behind to be able to do this? Am I getting this wrong? What the fuck?

    • 14 June 2013 at 5:04am
      rwhalley says: @ rwhalley
      Though I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. I did a bit of web-searching to find out how to get UK citizenship for my daughter, who we adopted at birth 14 months ago. Apparently 'they' (whoever they are) can grant citizenship to her but it will be "at our discretion".
      At our discretion? Discretion?? Fuck you Bertie Wooster!

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