Immigration for non-UK partners of British citizens

romansReaders are probably aware that immigration has been a hot potato in British politics since the Romans arrived uninvited on our shores some 2000 years ago.  Since Enoch Powell made his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968 it has been a touchstone topic for both major political parties.  Relax controls on immigration and you risk being accused of endangering the ‘British’ way of life and sacrificing ‘British’ employment opportunities, be too strict and you risk being accused of racism.

Any conservative government walks a tightrope between appeasing its right wing back benchers and being accused by the left of being racist.  In June 2014 Ed Milliband (then leader of the opposition) made a bid to capture some of the centre ground from the conservatives by admitting that Labour had been wrong to be quite so soft on immigration from eastern Europe when it was in power a decade ago.  But he’s trying to catch up with a government that’s already made moves to crack down further on immigration, moves which will inadvertently prejudice Christian workers abroad.

In 2012 the government introduced a tougher test for new immigrants to prove they can speak English and understand British culture and history, but the most troubling change for those overseas mission workers who have non-British partners is that those partners have severe restrictions placed on their ability to immigrate.  There are rigorous investigations to determine whether their marriage is genuine, and the test is not merely be the number of years that a couple have been together.  Additionally, the British partner must earn a minimum of £18,600 pa, or £22,400 for a couple with one child, with a further £2,400 for each additional child.  So a family with four children will need to prove the authenticity of their marriage (!) and earn at least £29,200 before they can settle in Britain.

Families who do successfully immigrate will not be able to access the welfare system for at least two years, giving them further financial challenges.  If they want to bring an elderly parent with them, that parent is banned from accessing social security benefits for at least five years and the family will need to demonstrate that they can pay for any care and medical treatment the parent might need.  These rules do not apply to families seeking to immigrate to Britain from within the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

The government’s intention is to reduce net migration to Britain, and at the same time to prevent immigrants claiming Britain’s generous social benefit payments.  This will be seen as a positive move in many quarters, but many British volunteer workers who marry nationals of the country they work in will not be able to pass the financial restrictions, so will be condemned to a life abroad.  Theresa May, who at the time was Home Secretary, commented:

British citizens can enter into a relationship with whomever they choose but if they want to establish their family life here, they must do so in a way which works in the best interests of our society.”

One creative way around this problem is to immigrate not to Britain but another EU country, in which case EU rules on free movement of labour trump British immigration law.  However, in order to make this work, the applicant and partner will have to:

  • demonstrate that the British citizen genuinely live in the country
  • prove their address and length of residence in that country
  • prove their integration into the country (e.g. learning the language, having children born there)
  • show that they were either employed or self-employed in the country

The warning to British overseas workers is clear: be careful whom you marry, as you might not be able to bring your family back home with you.

For full details visit the Home Office website., and for assistance in navigating the challenges of the UK immigration system, have a look at the Right To Remain Toolkit.