Technological development, like any major socio-economic change is both a blessing and a curse. The industrial revolution led to an explosion of wealth and prosperity, but the cost to our planet's health is only now being calculated. The digital revolution, which brought us Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, and the like, has increased our ability to communicate, but at a cost to our mental health, especially in the case of young people.
The internet has also provided governments around the world, including Britain's, the ability to tighten its immigration system by stealth. After all, if parents and children can see and talk to each other in real-time, is it so important they actually reside in the same country? Or even the same continent?
You may not believe such a cruel attitude could exist in a civilised nation, but separating children from one of their parents happens all the time in the UK. In family law, such an action would see the person denying access hauled before a judge and being made subject to a Court Order, stating that the denied parent must be allowed to spend time with their child.
How can one part of English law, i.e. family, be focused on keeping parents and children together, and their other, immigration law, is willingly tearing them apart?
"Money, money, money … it's a rich man's world"
The above line from the classic ABBA song, Money, Money, Money applies perfectly to obtaining a UK Spouse Visa, especially if the non-EU/EEA migrant has dependent children.
To successfully obtain a Spouse Visa, you must meet the following criteria:
• Your spouse/civil partner must be a British Citizen or settled in the UK
• You must have met each other and be legally married
• You must intend to live with your sponsor and have adequate accommodation
• Your sponsor must meet the minimum income threshold of earning £18,600 per year (plus an additional £3,800 for the first child and £2,400 for each additional child)
• You must meet the English language requirements
The initial Spouse Visa is granted for 33 months. You can then apply for a 30-month extension. The above criteria must be evidenced again when you apply for a UK Spouse Visa extension. Furthermore, to be granted an extension, you will also need to show you have been living together as husband and wife (or as a same-sex married couple). After five years, you can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.
Meeting the minimum income threshold is the most challenging aspect of obtaining a UK Spouse Visa. It is estimated that over 40 o;f British people could not meet the threshold and this rises to over 50 f;or female sponsoring spouses.
Following a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2017, decision makers now have to consider the best interests of the child and any alternative sources of funding when deciding whether to grant entry clearance via the Spouse Visa route.
In 2015, the Children's Commissioner for England published a paper produced by Middlesex University and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, on the impact of the then recently introduced minimum income threshold.
The study found that the UK had the least family-friendly family reunification policies out of 38 developed countries largely because of the minimum income requirement.
In a statement, the Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield OBE, said:
"There is a wealth of evidence which indicates that children are far more likely to thrive when they are raised by parents in a warm, stable and loving family environment and that is why I am a strong supporter of family-friendly policies.
"I am therefore very concerned that the Immigration Rules introduced in July 2012 actively drive families apart and leave British children able to communicate with one parent only via Skype.
"Many of the children interviewed for this research suffer from stress and anxiety, affecting their well-being and development. It is also likely to have an impact on their educational attainment and outcomes because they have been separated from a parent, due to these inflexible rules which take little account of regional income levels or family support available.
"We are not talking about having unrestricted access but we need to put the heart back into this policy and consider the profound impact the rules have on this group of British children and their families."
Co-author Dr Helena Wray Associate Professor of Law at Middlesex University, said:
"Our research shows that the financial requirements are much more onerous than they need to be to protect the public purse and mean that British families cannot live together in the UK even when this is the only practical option.
"The result has been the separation of parents and children, heartache and misery. Some families cannot see how they can ever meet the rules and separation may be permanent.
"The rules urgently need to be made more flexible so that affected children, the vast majority of whom are British citizens, can grow up in their own country with both their parents."
Although UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) now must consider the best interests of any children involved in any family visa application, there remain many children who are separated from a parent thanks to the minimum income requirement. Some parents have resorted to the "Surinder Singh" route to get their non-EU partners into the country. This involves working in another nation in the European Economic Area (EEA) for a period. When the couple return to the UK, the right of the non-EU/EEA spouse to live in the UK will be determined under European Union (EU) rules rather than UK immigration laws. However, now that Britain has formally left the EU, this route will close at the end of the transition period (currently set at 31 December 2020).
The best course of action to successfully obtaining a Spouse Visa is to work with a Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) registered immigration solicitors. They can examine your application and include a detailed covering letter setting out:
• the fact you have children and the welfare matters that must be considered by the decision-maker
• any alternative sources of funding
• any exceptional circumstances which would result in refusal leading to unjustifiably harsh consequences for you or your family
If you do not meet the minimum income threshold and/or your visa has been refused, don't despair. Take control and seek expert legal advice. In many cases, the UKVI reverses its refusal decision following a challenge from a reputable immigration law firm.
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