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Another lonely Skype Christmas, thanks to the ‘minimum income requirement’?

Meghan Markle might not have to worry about the ‘minimum income requirement’, but if you marry a Brit of more modest means than Prince Harry, you might face years of separation from your partner and family.

Christmas is coming. Everywhere you see the signs of a season that is, for most people, a time for family and loved ones. But for thousands of families across the country, it’s yet another Christmas spent without fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives, as Theresa May’s government continues to prevent them from coming home to their family.

Families & the Law

Since 2012, British citizens have been required to demonstrate an income of at least £18,600 per year in order to be joined here by a non-European spouse. The figure rises by £3,800 if you have a child and by £2,400 for every additional child. Savings of at least £62,500 may be accepted in lieu of income but these must be in the form of cash, held for at least six months and must be held by the British spouse.

Home ownership is not accepted as a form of savings under any circumstances. Likewise, the income of a foreign spouse is not considered, even if the spouse carries a firm offer of employment in the UK. Support from parents or relatives is not recognised.

Unsound Logic, Unfair Policy

The Tories’ logic for both the threshold and the restrictions on how you meet it run like this: earning at least £18,600 per year means that a family will not draw on public funds for sustenance. Support from relatives and the potential income of the foreign spouse is not seen as sufficiently reliable. Only a job, held by the British spouse, can be considered a stable source of income.

On the face of it, it makes some sense – but it doesn’t stand up to even minimal scrutiny. In fact, spouses have not had recourse to public funds since long before 2012. A non-European national living in the UK on a spouse visa cannot claim benefits and, prior to their application even being reviewed, a £1000 NHS (spread over five years) surcharge is levied. That’s, in addition to the taxes and national insurance contributions that will be generated by the clear majority of foreign spouses who will work in the UK once they arrive.

Even the arbitrary figure of £18,600 raises more questions than it answers. It does not account for regional or sectoral disparities in income or the cost of living. 

Someone working full-time at the National Living Wage earns just £15,600 before tax. Salaries for trainee teachers start at £15,817. Average salaries for NHS attendants and cleaners are just under £16,000. With incomes stagnating, 41% of working British people do not (and may never) qualify for the right to live with their family in the UK. This figure will no doubt rise as the Tories seek to increase the thresholds while holding down public sector pay.

These financial disparities are compounded by gender and age. In most professions, women are still paid less than men and are therefore less likely to meet Theresa May’s requirements. In families that cannot afford childcare, women are more likely than men to take unpaid time off or leave work altogether to raise children, potentially rendering a family unable to stay together in the UK, while retired people on fixed incomes (most pensions are far below £18,600 per year) cannot easily return to work.

Forcing Families Apart

“Well”, says the Home Office, “you are free to live together wherever your spouse comes from”. Sounds like common sense? Here’s the thing: for many people, this just isn’t an option. Many have elderly parents to look after. Many have children whose schooling and lives cannot easily be uprooted. Many have specialist health needs that can only be met in the UK. Many of those in same-sex relationships cannot return to countries that criminalise homosexuality. Most have family here and all have roots that run deeper than paperwork.

A Tory government which prides itself on its patriotic credentials has no place asking honest, hardworking, law-abiding citizens to leave the country they love and call home.

A broken system

And even once a family meets the requirements, it must run the gauntlet of a complex application with convoluted evidence requirements that often cannot be navigated without the use of expensive legal assistance on top of an already expensive (£1464 for a single applicant) application. Once an application is submitted, families often wait months or even years before they receive a full response from the Home Office, with growing delays leaving families in limbo.

Decisions themselves are too often incorrect, made hastily or without an Entry Clearance Officer having properly looked at an applicant’s papers. Irreplaceable documents such as marriage certificates and passports are frequently lost. Fees are not refunded and the burden of dealing with these administrative errors falls on the applicant who typically has no choice but to submit an appeal, with waiting times of a year or more before a hearing, during which time they are often unable to even visit the UK. Most do not have the resources for a lawyer or the know-how to mount an appeal on their own. Legal aid for such cases was ended in 2013.

People, not Numbers

So another Christmas, another year passes for families who simply want to be together. For too many people this story is all too familiar. They are fathers who watch their children grow up on Skype. Mothers forced to raise their family alone. Grandparents who never get to see their grandchildren. Husbands and wives who forget the feeling of holding hands and talking about the future. Futures that are paused, abruptly and deliberately by a government that took away their rights and didn’t even see fit to do its own job properly. It’s time this ended. It’s time to bring them home.

About the author

Satbir Singh is Chief Executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which has campaigned on this issue since these rules were introduced. This Christmas, JCWI is leading the campaign to reunite families. For more visit www.bringthemhome.org.uk 

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