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“Skype Families” – Recommendations of the Children’s Commissioner Report

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.

The position is considered at the date of application, there is no scope for potential earning ability, consideration of the possibility of work or third part support. The levels were set following consultation with the Independent Migration Advisory Committee.  The levels have undoubtedly affected many families across the world and for many there is no end in sight and they remain separated for the foreseeable future.

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.

A discussion paper by the Children’s Commissioner published on 9th September 2015 entitled: “Skype Families” considers “the effects on children of being separated from a mum or dad because of recent immigration rules”.  It makes very interesting reading.

The discussion paper “describes the impact on children who are growing up within ‘Skype families’ because their UK parent does not earn enough to enable the family to be united in the UK. It makes recommendations for change to family migration requirements to enable children to grow up with both parents in the UK.

The report states: “Over the last three years, a significant number of families who met whilst living abroad have been prevented from living together in the UK. Some have been separated, with the sponsor staying in or returning to the UK in order to try to satisfy income requirements. Others have been prevented from returning to the UK as a family. This has resulted in many children being separated from a parent and siblings. Evidence from families reveals many negative short and long term impacts on children which are unintended consequences of a wider ambition to reduce net migration. Research undertaken for the Children’s Commissioner assessed the impact of the family migration financial requirements on children, young people and families through a survey of 100 families and interviews with children and their parents. The research did not evaluate other aspects of the Immigration Rules, such as the English language requirement or suitability criteria”.

The research conducted concludes “that at least 15,000 children have been negatively affected by financial requirements in the three years following implementation of the new Rules”.  The report identifies resulting behavioural and emotional problems. The paper acknowledges that many families have been forced to continue to establish and develop their relationships via modern means such as Skype.

In summary, the discussion paper makes the following six recommendations

  1. Changes to the financial requirements in the Immigration Rules.
  2. Inclusion of partner’s earning potential.
  3. Inclusion of third part support.
  4. Provision for regional variations.
  5. Reduction of the threshold before savings can be counted.
  6. Reduction for the income threshold equivalent to the minimum wage.

The High Court had previously ruled in July 2013 that the minimum threshold might have a disproportionate impact on family life.

This was reversed in July 2014 by the Court of Appeal who upheld the lawfulness of the rules, meaning that many families remain separated: MM v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] EWCA Civ 985 and the ‘skype families’ will continue for now.  Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was granted in May 2015 and a hearing date is awaited.

In the meantime it is hoped that at least some of the recommendations of the Children’s Commissioner will be followed but it is clear that the aim of reducing net migration comes at a cost.

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