Coalition sets its Sights on Families…

With the Migration Advisory Committee categorically concluding  that in order to reduce migration to tens of thousands by the end of Parliament students and family routes will have to take ‘a substantial share’ of any overall reduction, alarm bells should start ringing for anyone with a basic commitment to human rights and the values that underpin them.


We know from the MAC that Non- EU spouse related migration accounts for 20 % of non-EU flows.

While the Government has indicated that a large cut in immigration flows is likely to come fromstudent routes  for non degree courses if the response of the industry is anything to go by any proposals will have to have to be moderated.

With the higher and education sector facing eye-watering public expenditure cuts, the industry is already arguing that such cuts would ‘devastate finances’ –  it transpires in fact that half of all overseas degrees students recruited by universities start out on sub-degree courses.

Whilst there will inevitably be another dogma driven attempt at reduction here, policy makers will be more receptive to lobbying pressure given economic realities that underlie those concerns. Unfortunately the same is unlikely to hold true for familial migration.

What’s in the pipe-line for families?

Clearly the UK is somewhat limited in what it can do so far as controlling family members of non-EU nationals go. We have legal obligations under the ECHR.  However these aren’t very extensive, and we have a nasty habit of exploring the boundaries of these obligations – a trend that is no doubt set to continue under the current Coalition, so what does this mean for families?

1. Pre-entry language tests for spouses/partners

This comes into force next week (we’ll have more for you on this shortly). According to the impact assessment it can initially be expected to result in a 10% reduction in these flows.

2. Extension of the probationary period/more robust enforcement?

We know that Government is currently reviewing the family migration routes.  In her recent statement to Parliament Theresa May noted:

Last year, the family route accounted for nearly 20% of non EU immigration. Clearly British nationals must be able to marry the person of their choice but those who come to the UK must be able to participate in society… We are also cracking down on sham marriages and will consult on extending the probationary period of settlement for spouses beyond the current two years.”

3. Tightening the criteria for entry and settlement for spouses (and probably other relatives)

In May’s speech of November 5th she asserted:

‘So from November 29th, those applying for marriage visas will have to demonstrate a minimum standard of English…

And we need to go further. We must look at measures to tighten this route, for example by introducing processes to allow us to check that the UK sponsor is able to maintain and accommodate the foreign spouse.’

During May’s subsequent statement to Parliament on 23 November, Fiona Mactaggart MP asked

‘The right hon. Lady says, “We will end the link between temporary and permanent migration.” How can temporary migrants, whether spouses or workers, earn permanent settlement?

May’s response was:

‘…we also intend to consult more fully on exactly how we will introduce changes to settlement more widely. The initial changes will relate to the language requirements, but we will also look at the salary levels required for a sponsor to bring somebody in for settlement, and at the criminality thresholds. Those are the immediate issues that we will consider. I also intend to ask the Migration Advisory Committee to do some more work on changing the settlement requirements in the longer term.

4. Changes to legal aid

We now know from the Green Paper that the Government is proposing that most immigration appeals will not attract public funding. If this transpires, this along with the introduction of fees for appeals can be expected to have serious implications for migrant families, and in so doing yet further push numbers down.

If the recent inactivity in Parliament over the introduction of language testing for spouses is anything to go by we should expect some very testing times, indeed.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

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