If you’ve been following our petition to introduce joint sponsorship for UK partner visas, you’ll know that last month we wrote to local MP David Morris about the idea and to see if the government would be willing to consider such a proposal. You can read the full update & email exchange here.
Since then, David wrote to Security and Immigration Minister James Brokenshire on our behalf, outlining our thoughts on the issue. Yesterday, David forwarded us the official reply from James which was not only disappointing – but patronising.
We don’t like to stray into politics on this blog, it’s a much too divisive subject – however, the response we received from James clearly shows that visa applicants, and their UK partners, do not have any allies within the current government.
The Government’s Response in Full
Below, you can see the letter that was sent to us. Don’t worry if it’s a little hard to read, we have also posted a full transcript below (just carry on scrolling).
Thank you for your email of 18 May on behalf of Mr Christopher and Mrs Chelsea Martin of 12 Turnpike Fold, Lancaster, LLA2 6FB about the minimum income threshold for sponsoring a non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) national spouse or partner to come to or remain in the UK under the family Immigration Rules.
The purpose of the minimum income threshold, implemented on 9 July 2012 with other reforms of the family Immigration Rules, is to ensure that family migrants are supported at a reasonable level so that they do not become a burden on the taxpayer and they can participate sufficiently in everyday life to facilitate their integration into British society. We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard an make a contribution. But family life must not be established here at the taxpayer’s expense, and family migrants must be able to integrate. That means they must be able to speak our language and pay their way. The is fair to applicants and to the public.
The minimum income threshold was set, following advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee at £18,600 for sponsoring a spouse or partner, rising to £22,400 for also sponsoring a non-EEA national child and an additional £2,400 for each further child. This reflects the level of income at which a British family or a family settled in the UK generally ceases to be able to access income-related benefits.
On 11 July 2014, the Court of Appeal upheld the lawfulness of the minimum income threshold under the family Immigration Rules, including its compatibility Convention on Human Rights. The Court of Appeal found that the policy is a rational and reasonable means of achieving the legitimate aims of reducing taxpayer burdens and promoting integration, and strikes a fair balance between the interests of those wishing to sponsor family migrants and the community in general.
The maintenance requirement in place before 9 July 202 in practice meant that any sponsor earning, after tax and housing costs had been deducted, more than the equivalent of Income Support for a couple (around £5,795 a year) was deemed to have sufficient funds to sponsor a spouse or partner. That was not an adequate basis for sustainable family migration and integration. British citizens and those settled in the UK are free to enter into a genuine relationship with whomever they choose, but if they wish to establish their family life in the UK it is appropriate that they should do so on a basis that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and promotes integration.
Mr and Mrs Martin suggest that third party financial support should be counted. Promises of financial support from family or other third parties cannot be counted under the minimum income threshold. This is because we want the couple to demonstrate that they can stand on their own feet financially, with adequate resources under their own control and not somebody else’s. Promises of a support from a third party are vulnerable to a change in another person’s circumstances or in the sponsor or applicant’s relationship to them.
As noted by Mr and Mrs Martin, we will not take into account the previous, current or prospective earnings, or any job offer, of the migrant partner when they apply for entry clearance to come to the UK. Employment overseas is no gaurentee of finding work in the UK. Partners coming to the UK with an appropriate job offer can apply under Tier 2 of the Points Based System. Those using the family route to come to the UK must be capable of being independently supported by their sponsor and/or by their joint savings or non-employment income. Where, or once, the migrant partner is in the UK with permission to work, we will take their earnings from employment here into account.
The minimum income threshold can be met in a number of ways in addition to or instead of income from employment or self-employment. Full details can be found by searching Appendix FM1.7 Financial Requirement at: www.homeoffice.go.uk.
We have continued to keep the new family Immigration Rules under review and to make adjustments in light of feedback on their operation and impact. However, our overall assessment is that the new Rules are having the right impact and are helping to restore public confidence in the immigration system.
I hope this clarifies the government’s position.
Our Thoughts on the Response
I don’t want to write too much about my opinions on this response – but believe me, I could. While this was not an entirely unexpected response, it was still disappointing. The way the letter reads, from it’s assumption that we have little understanding of the current rules to the blasé dismissal of joint sponsorship, is condescending and patronising. However, rather than focus on emotion, I want to point out a few things that this response fails to address. (and also a few contradictions)
It fails to address that joint sponsorship is implemented in other countries (notably the USA). It fails to address the notion that a legal system could be in place to ensure that joint sponsorship is a legally binding agreement. And it fails to address that there is anyone who could possibly not be able to meet the current financial requirements – yet be in a genuine relationship and willing to pay their way to be in the UK. This is an insult to many of the long distance couples we have spoken to, who are willing and want to be financially independent, but these rules prevent them from doing so.
I’ll conclude (before I ramble on) by highlighting a two of the contradictions that this letter also brings to light. The response (correctly) states that guarantees of employment in the UK will not be considered for the visa applicant. Yet, guarantees of employment in the UK for a British sponsor returning to the country are taken into account.
Secondly, and crucially to the notion of joint sponsorship, the response states that the couple must demonstrate that they are financially independent as a family unit. And yet, the way this is demonstrated is by only taking into account the income of 50% of the family unit (less if child dependants are involved). It does not seem fair or right that the financial stability of the couple is based on one single person’s income.
Is This the End of the Road for Joint Sponsorship?
No. This is not the end of the road for our campaign for joint sponsorship. While this response has bought to light some serious issues with the government’s stance on immigration, and ‘clarified’ that this will not make it any further via parliamentary committee – we still have a voice.
The petition is still live, it can still be signed and, if it reaches 10,000 signatures it must still be address. We know we are not the only ones taking this up with the government, there is great work being done by many others. But to be successful, we must be vocal. We must make it known that joint sponsorship (and many other amendments) can make the process fairer to international couples whilst still protecting the (perceived) faith the UK populus has in the immigration system.
So please – if you are affected by this, know someone who is affected by this or just want to show your support: share this message. Sign the petition. Share this post, write an article, write to your MP, share your opinion and help us make it known that there are other ways!
Thank you so much to everyone who has and is supporting the campaign to introduce joint sponsorship – it’s appreciated more than you know :)