Britain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld immigration rules that restrict citizens from bringing Indian and other non-EU spouses to the country unless they have a minimum annual salary of £18,600, disappointing thousands of Indians and others.
Nearly 15,000 children are said to be growing up in “Skype families”, in which one non-EU parent sees and interacts with children only on the internet since they cannot join their families due to rules introduced in 2012, when Prime Minister Theresa May was the home secretary.
The court ruling disappointed campaigners, but left open a window by stating that children had been adversely affected, which could lead to changes. The court admitted the income threshold was “particularly harsh”, but not incompatible with human rights law.
The judges held that the “minimum income threshold is accepted in principle”, but added the Home Office’s rules and instructions failed to take full account of their legal duties in respect to the children involved or to allow alternative sources of funding to be considered.
The justices ruled that current Home Office guidance is defective and unlawful until it is amended to give more weight to the interests of the children. This could give limited hope to some separated families with children.
The court said the threshold was “defective” and a cause of “hardship” even as it rejected an appeal by families who contended the 2012 rules breached their right to family life. The rules exclude earnings of the non-EU spouse.
The issue has affected many Britons of Indian-origin earning less than £18,600, who have spouses from India or elsewhere outside the European Union. Their plight was part of a recent documentary play titled My Skype Family in London.
The threshold of £18,600 rises to £22,400 for families with a child and £2,400 pounds for each further child. Campaigners say 43% of employees in the UK do not earn enough to meet the salary requirement.
A Home Office spokesman said the Supreme Court had endorsed its approach in setting an income threshold for family migration that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and ensures migrant families can integrate into British communities. “This is central to building an immigration system that works in the national interest,” he said.
The current rules remain in force, the spokesman said, “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”.
Saira Grant of campaign group Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “This judgment is a real victory for families especially those with children. For five years we have been working with affected families and trying to persuade the government to abandon the Family Migration Rules it introduced in 2012 because they are tearing families apart and significantly harming children. The Supreme Court has now declared this to be the case.
“These rules are unlawful as they do not safeguard the best interests of children. The strict requirement that only the sponsor’s personal finances can allow the £18,600 threshold to be met has also been discredited. The Supreme Court has said that alternative funding sources should be taken into account when a person’s right to family life could be breached.”