Shine A Light

Love is not all you need, says Court of Appeal: can you afford to love a migrant?

Harsh UK immigration rules deprive couples of their right to family life unless they earn at least £18,600 per year — more if they have children. And that's all right, says the Court of Appeal.

Clare Sambrook
14 July 2014

United by love, divided by Theresa May (JCWI)

Last month I wrote about Margaret, a legal secretary from South Wales, who married Mohammed (he's from Tunisia) while he was living in the UK. When Mohammed's permission to live in the UK ran out, and because he comes from outside the European Economic Area, Margaret had to apply to sponsor him to live in the UK. But there's a problem. Rules introduced two years ago require sponsors to demonstrate that they have a gross income of £18,600 per year. Like an awful lot of British people Margaret doesn't make that kind of money.

A High Court judge ruled last year that the income requirements were an "unjustified and disproportionate interference with a genuine spousal relationship". The judgement suggested that a level of £13,400, which is close to the salary for a full time position paid at the national minimum wage, would be more reasonable.

Four thousand applications such as Margaret's were put on hold, awaiting the outcome of the government's appeal against the judgement.

That decision came on Friday, amid rejoicing at the Home Office. The Court of Appeal allowed the government's appeal.

The Home Office said that those 4,000 applications would soon be refused.

Ruth Grove-White, policy director at the Migrants' Rights Network, a charity campaigning for the right of UK residents to have their family life respected in the UK, said:

“This judgement will be devastating for the families who continue to be needlessly separated across borders. Many UK residents and British citizens have had their lives put on hold for over a year, often with no chance of seeing their loved husbands, wives or children during that time.

These rules are a shocking infringement of the right to family life, as almost half of the UK working population earns below the required amount. Being able to start a family in your own country should not be subject to the amount of money you make."

The Home Office, which enjoys a joke, chose a particularly tasteless image to illustrate its press statement on the judgement. Here it is:


During the hearing in March, Home Office lawyers suggested that the rich will integrate into society better than the poor.

Where's the evidence?

As barrister Colin Yeo writes in his note on the judgement: "This is questionable on so many levels, particularly given the press coverage of London ghettos of abandoned properties owned by foreign nationals, questionable tax arrangements and the lack of an English language requirement for Investor visas." 

Lately the Migrants' Rights Network, using Office of National Statistics data, found that the £18,600 threshold is more than average employee earnings in 74 parliamentary constituencies across the UK, in effect pricing out a majority of workers from these constituencies from the right to a family life. (There's a PDF here). The worst affected areas are the North West, South West and Wales. Earners in London are more likely to be able to meet the rules, although as one barrister tweeted in response to my previous piece on this matter:


One OurKingdom reader commented:

"As a British citizen who worked in Saudi met my wife in 1984 came back to the UK bought my own house and have adequate income from pensions and investments to retire but have now been separated from my wife by [Home Secretary Theresa] May's rules I am now going thro the process of selling up going to live in my wife's country where my cost of living will be about one third of in the UK. I am an income and council tax payer and get a state pension because I paid full contributions while working overseas. So the UK loses my taxes."

Here's a neat piece of doublethink. According to the government these rules are part of the policy called "Securing borders and reducing immigration".

The "issue" behind the policy is expressed thus: 

"Immigration enriches our culture and strengthens our economy and therefore we want to attract people to study, work and invest in the UK. We want to simplify and improve immigration policy and law and policy to make sure the UK has an internationally competitive visa system and an efficient and effective enforcement operation."

Forget the pain and heartbreak of thousands of families. Our government is only 'simplifying' and 'improving'. That's all right, then.



Note:  The test case for challenging the minimum income threshold for spouses wishing to enter the United Kingdom MM v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] EWCA Civ 985.

Thanks to Colin Yeo of Garden Court Chambers for spotting the Home Office picture and dissecting the Court of Appeal Judgement here.

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