Can they ever live together in Britain?

Can they ever live together in Britain?

This time last year Syzygy alerted you to the impact of new immigration laws which have a potential impact on UK overseas mission workers who want to return to the UK bringing foreign national family members with them (click here for a reminder).  In a nutshell, unless you can prove that you are earning at least £18,600, you will not be able to bring into the country with you a spouse who is not a citizen of a country in the European Economic Area (EEA – the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).  The minimum income requirement rises where children are immigration too.

This attempt to restrict immigration has inadvertently affected many mission workers already.  Syzygy is personally connected to four couples who cannot permanently live in the UK because of these regulations, and we have heard of many others.  Working together with Global Connections and several other mission agencies, Syzygy lodged an official representation with the parliamentary committee reviewing the impact of the new rules.

Our principal argument was that people working overseas for the benefit of others were accidentally caught up in these regulations and should be given an exemption, for which a precedent already exists in the special arrangements for accessing NHS services and paying discounted rates of National Insurance which are available to mission workers and voluntary development workers respectively.  We also pointed out that the government was liable to face legal challenges from UK citizens who felt they had been denied a right to family life.

Last month the committee’s report was published.  The committee said that they had heard evidence of British nationals effectively being denied access to settle in their home country, and of children being separated from non EEA-national parents.

Baroness Hamwee, Chair of the Committee

Baroness Hamwee, Chair of the Committee

The committee did not challenge the principle of the new regulations, or make any mention of our suggestion of an exemption.  Their only recommendation was that the government should establish an independent enquiry into the minimum income requirement, particularly in view of the fact that no allowance is made for the savings or unearned income of the immigrating British partner, the potential earnings of the non-EEA partner, or the willingness of other family members and agencies like churches to provide support for them.

Baroness Hamwee, chair of the committee, wrote

‘We urge Government to consider the emerging evidence about what must be the unintended consequences of these rules, and hope they will agree the need fully to review whether, one year on from their introduction, these rules have struck the right balance between different interests.’

We can only hope that the minimum income requirement will be lowered, or at least reduced to a more realistic level, but this would not be commensurate with the government’s aim of radically reducing immigration.  Syzygy does not expect a change which will help those missionary families affected by these regulations during the life of this parliament.  The fact that fewer than 300 submissions were made indicates that this issue is of minority interest which does not attract much attention despite its critical significance for the lives of those families affected.  When MPs had an opportunity to debate the report last month, only 30 attended.

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 only practical solutions that we can propose under the current circumstances are:

  • Ensure you have a job offer worth in excess of £18,600 before attempting to bring your non-EEA partner into the country
  • Immigrate into another EU country first, work there for three months and then immigrate under EU regulations governing the free movement of labour, which will circumvent the UK restrictions.  Find out more here.
  • Pray

You can download a full copy of the report here.