Family matters

Rosser4x3.jpgRichard Rosser on flaws in the design and application of the government’s new migration rules

Immigrants have benefited Britain over a great many years. They have come to our shores to help build and develop some of our major companies, sustain our National Health Service and win Nobel Prizes.

It is because immigration is important that it needs to be controlled and its impact must be fair for all. We need to build common bonds including more emphasis on speaking English. We also need much stronger action to tackle the exploitation of migrant workers that also undercuts local workers. That means stronger National Minimum Wage regulations, more enforcement and higher fines, and a register to tackle rogue landlords.

We need to recognise the different kinds of immigration – the type that works for Britain and the type that does not. This is why Labour supports policies to bring down the pace of migration, stronger controls on those coming to do low-skilled jobs, and action against bogus colleges. It is also why we would do more to cut illegal immigration and more to help universities recruit international students who contribute to our economy.

Some changes made by the Coalition to immigration rules are however, having unfortunate consequences.

In July last year major changes to family related immigration categories came into effect. With limited exemptions, British citizens or settled persons wishing to sponsor their non-EEA national spouse or partner to join them must now demonstrate a minimum gross annual income of £18,600 - and more if they are also sponsoring dependent children. New foreign spouses or partners must also wait for five years (rather than the previous two) before they are eligible to apply for permanent settlement in the UK. More restrictive criteria has also been introduced for adult dependent relatives of British citizens who wish to settle here.

At the time we expressed our support for strengthening the family migration rules to protect UK taxpayers, and said that if people want to make this country their home they should not be a burden on public funds. But we also cast doubt on the government’s approach, focusing on the sponsor’s salary, and called for a fair framework for those who fall in love and build family relationships across borders.

A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration on the new rules has just been published. Its key findings are that some British citizens and permanent residents in the UK, including those in full-time employment, have been separated – in a number of cases permanently – from a non-EEA partner, and also their children, as a result of the income requirement. Indeed, with some families where the non-EEA partner was the main earner with a medium or high salary, this was disregarded under the new rules.

It looks as though the doubts we raised have unfortunately been proved right. Among the APPG’s recommendations is a review of the level of the income requirement – to minimize any particular impacts on UK sponsors as a result of ethnicity, gender, age or indeed region of origin. They also recommend that migration rules should ensure children are supported to live with their parents where their best interests require this.

The government’s response remains to be seen. But as it stands, the new rules and their application are doing little to strengthen and enhance family life.

Lord Richard Rosser is a member of Labour’s Shadow Home Office team in the House of Lords

Published 4th July 2013

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