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Home Office Response To The Report On The Minimum Income Threshold - “Skype Families”

In July 2012, Immigration Rules came into effect that set a minimum threshold requirement of £18,600 per annum, for British citizens or those settled In the United Kingdom to sponsor a non EEA national. This threshold rises to £22,400 to sponsor a child who is not British, with an additional £2,400 for each additional child who is not British thereafter. When considering cash savings the first £16,000 of savings are discounted.

The Children’s Commissioner published a report on 9th September 2015 entitled: “Skype Families” which considered “the effects on children of being separated from a mum or dad because of recent immigration rules”.

The Home Office response to the Children’s Commissioner’s report on the impact on the children of the minimum income threshold for sponsoring family migrants was published on 5th January 2016. The letter was written by James Brokenshire MP, Immigration Minister, to the Children’s Commissioner for England.

In summary the Immigration Minister, unsurprisingly, defends the government’s position making the following points:

  • Employment overseas is no guarantee of work. Migrants partners with appropriate job offers can apply to come to the United Kingdom under Tier 2 of the Immigration Rules.
  • Promises of third party support are vulnerable to change in another person’s circumstances or in the Sponsor or Applicant’s relationship with them. This is not a basis for a sustainable system.
  • The couple can rely on offers of accommodation based on third party support but the minimum threshold takes into account of the average rent and council tax.
  • The Migration Advisory Committee noted several arguments against setting regional income thresholds and concluded there was no basis for doing so. Having one level provides simplicity and clarity for Applicants. In addition, a relatively well-off spouse in a less well-off region would have to meet a lower income threshold than a poorer sponsor in a well-off region.
  • Cash savings of £16,000 usually prevent access to income-related benefit.
  • Reducing the minimum level to be in line with the minimum wage would mean that a couple would still be at a level to access benefits and tax credits, therefore such a level would not protect the tax payer from individuals relying on public funds.
  • The Courts have confirmed that the rules are already in accordance with section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act and the best interests of the child. The application forms asks questions in order to determine the best interests of the child.
  • The costs of the application should properly reflect the full cost of administration and costs involved in processing and considering the application.
  • Parents of children living in the United Kingdom should be granted visit visas if they meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules.

The government’s position is that the number of children affected by the changes is considerably overestimated and migration figures have been inaccurately used.

Thankfully these issues are soon to be considered and hopefully resolved by the Supreme Court. SS (Congo) [2015] EWCA Civ 387 is to be heard by the Supreme Court on 22nd February 2016 (Case ID: UKSC 2015/0168). In this case the Appellant was refused entry clearance as the spouse of a British citizen. The husband’s earnings were below the £18,600 minimum income requirement under the Immigration Rules. The First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal had allowed the appeals under Article 8. The Court of Appeal found that there were no “compelling circumstances” to warrant a grant of entry clearance under Article 8.

MM (Lebanon), [2014] EWCA Civ 985) will also be heard on 22nd February 2016 (Case ID: UKSC 2015/0011). The Appellant’s had challenged the lawfulness of the minimum income requirements under the Immigration Rules. MM is a refugee, who was unable to meet the requirements. At first instance Blake J held that the minimum income requirement found in the couple’s favour under Article 8. The decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The financial requirement rules are complex and include mandatory requirements in terms of the documentary evidence that must be provided to UK Visas and Immigration in order to demonstrate access to the relevant funds.

Recent media reports show the impact of the minimum requirement. It is hoped that the Supreme Court will shortly provide the final answer to the increasing number of “Skype families”.

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