The overall message from Damian Green and his latest package of proposals under the recent Family Migration Consultation is chilling: if you are poor or from a country we don’t trust, then your right to a family life in the UK should be reconsidered. Welcome to a new era of elite family migration, where an increasing number of people can expect to encounter hassle, suspicion and additional costs if they want to marry or be reunited with close dependents in the UK.
The means for doing so is laid out in the UKBA’s ongoing Family Migration Consultation. If its proposals are put into practice, additional barriers would be put in place for non-EU spouses and partners, justified here as ‘supporting integration’. This would include making all spouses wait for 5 years instead of the current 2 before they can apply for settlement. But there is a fundamental flaw in government thinking here. Measures which make people more insecure do not promote integration – quite the opposite.
Aside from these over-arching measures, it would be applicants who are from poor countries, couples whose nationalities lead them to be viewed as ‘at risk’ of a sham marriage, or family members whose UK sponsors are not well-off, who would bear the brunt of these proposals. A wide range of measures would have impacts on perfectly genuine couples who find themselves disadvantaged by these rule changes. In particular the proposals to raise the income threshold for sponsoring a spouse or dependent to above that of Income Support in the UK; to increase costly paperwork for spouse/partner applicants and sponsors, and plans to introduce a new ‘attachment requirement’ where applicants must prove their long-term relationship with the UK would hit many, less well-off migrants harder than others.
The government also envisages greater controls for foreign nationals wishing to marry in the UK. New measures would particularly target nationalities envisaged as ‘high risk’, by increasing UKBA enforcement measures at the point of application and on the day of marriage. Further out-sourcing of immigration enforcement is being envisaged, including introducing new registrars who also have UKBA enforcement powers, and engaging local authorities in verifying marriage applications. These proposals risk creating chaos and would increase the likelihood of discrimination against certain nationalities on the basis of assumption rather than evidence.
Both the consultation and the minister’s speech made clear that the government would like to be able to waive the right to a family life as provided for in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in certain circumstances (in particular for those who have insecure immigration status). At this stage these proposals look like hot air as the government would be legally unable to wriggle free from ECHR obligations – but they do indicate the direction of travel in government thinking. for these proposals.
In this light it is more vital than ever that all concerned about the Family Migration Consultation put in their response by 6th October 2011. You can find the MRN response here – do use it as a template if that is useful. And if you put your response online, send us the link so we can make it available. As ever, numbers of respondents are counted by the UKBA, so no efforts are wasted.