The Supreme Court has unanimously backed the government’s £18,600 minimum income threshold for UK spouse visas ‘in principle’.
The judges did however acknowledge the hardship that the minimum income threshold for some UK family visas could cause, whilst specifically criticising the lack of focus on children’s welfare and the ability of Home Office staff to consider alternative assets when assessing the earning ability of the British spouse.
What the decision means for those applying for UK family visas
The judgment, heard in front of seven justices of Britain’s highest court, means the Home Office will need to make sure that each decision takes into account the rights of children, plus whether a couple have other assets - perhaps a home, savings or substantial financial support from family.
Although this may be good news for some couples, thousands of others, especially those who come from poorer countries, will still find it often impossible to meet the minimum income threshold and remain separated from their loved ones.
The background to the decision
In July 2012 the immigration rules (‘the Rules’) were amended to establish new entry requirements for non-EEA applicants to join their spouses or civil partners in the United Kingdom. These included a minimum income requirement of at least £18,600 per annum, with additional sums for dependent children, to be satisfied by the sponsoring spouse or civil partner.
In four appeals, the appellants claimed that the Rules themselves, and the immigration Directorate Instruction on family migration giving guidance to entry clearance officers (‘the Instructions’), are inconsistent with the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on human rights (ECHR), principally the right to family life in Article 8, and unlawful under common law principles.
The claims partly succeeded in the High Court, but this decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court’s decision
When examining the minimum income threshold, the court pointed out that although the threshold was the cause of hardship to many families, this does not render the Rules unlawful.
The court stated that the minimum income threshold, “has the legitimate aim of ensuring that the couple do not have recourse to welfare benefits and have sufficient resources to play a full part in British life. The income threshold chosen was rationally connected to this aim and the acceptability in principle of a minimum income threshold has been confirmed by the European Court of human rights”.
According to the Guardian, a Home Office spokesperson said the court, “had endorsed its approach in setting an income threshold for family migration that prevents a burden on the taxpayer and ensures migrant families can integrate into our communities. This is central to building an immigration system that works in the national interest”.
They went on to say, “The current rules remain in force but we are carefully considering what the court has said in relation to exceptional cases where the income threshold has not been met, particularly where the case involves a child”.
Many campaigners are dismayed at this morning’s decision, stating that tens of thousands of so-called ‘Skype’ families will remain separated, with little hope of being united in the near future.
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Posted on: Wednesday, 22 February, 2017