By Katie Beech
The thousands of families who are forced to live apart as a result of Britain's draconian visa rules now have a flicker of hope. Under current rules, only those earning over £18,600 are allowed to bring a foreign spouse into the country to live with them. This has been applied extremely strictly, with countless stories of families being torn apart by faceless Home Office bureaucrats. But now a Supreme Court amendment is going to allow couples to provide evidence of alternative considerations if they meet specific criteria.
Home Office decision-makers will now have to take into account the circumstances of the couple before rejecting an application based on the sponsor's salary alone. For instance, if refusal would have excessively severe penalties for the family or be in breach of their human rights, alternative financial routes will have to be taken into consideration.
The government is being forced to finally loosen the grip of that arbitrary £18,600 figure which has torn apart so many families in the past five years. Credible job offers and legitimate self-employment prospects will be viewed as alternative evidence of financial support. If applicants can prove they will have continued support from a financially stable source, such as a parent, that will also be considered a valid form of income. What was previously arbitrary and severe has become marginally less so.
The new changes mark the first win in a long battle from those desperately attempting to reunite their families. The issue has drawn protests, legal court battles and a petition garnering over 14,000 signatures.
The income benchmark was brought in prevent someone bringing a foreign spouse to the UK and immediately applying for handouts from the state. But the truth is spouses and children from outside the EU were never entitled to public funding regardless of the income of their UK sponsor. The policy isn’t just cruel. It’s pointless.
The steep price for bringing over a non-European spouse also sparked claims of classism. For couples with a child, the income requirement increases from £18,600 to £22,400 and then rises by an additional £2,400 for every child thereafter. The children caught up in all this have been dubbed 'Skype Kids' because they are often only able to communicate with their overseas parents via social media.
There has also been criticism of the policy's sexist undertones. Fifty-five per cent of women with a foreign spouse have been denied the right to bring their foreign spouse to the UK because they don't earn enough. This compares to the 41% of men with a foreign spouse who've been unable to meet the requirement.
The 'specific circumstances' are the only part of the process due to change. All other aspects will remain the same, including the requirement for knowledge of English and the health care surcharge placed on those outside the EEA using the NHS. The couple applying will also still have to disclose previous marriages and face questions about how well they know each other.
Over 5,000 couples in the UK are currently in limbo as their applications have been put on hold awaiting August 10th 2017, when these new considerations will take effect.
For those who have previously been rejected and kept apart from their families for years, these new considerations could be a lifeline. Only time will tell if the same virtue will be applied to all couples needing to bring family to the UK.
Katie Beech is the content writer for The Immigration Advice Services in the UK.
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