The Supreme Court has ruled that minimum wage requirements imposed on British citizens who want to bring their foreign-born spouses to the UK are lawful.
Seven justices at the UK’s highest court ruled today that the requirement for Britons to earn more than £18,600 before they can apply to sponsor spouses born outside the European Union did not breach their human rights.
The rule was challenged as previous rules only required a couple to demonstrate that they could maintain themselves without recourse to public funds.
Tens of thousands of British families have been separated by the ruling, brought in by Theresa May, then home secretary, in 2012.
However, the court decided that the “rules and instructions” require amendment in relation to the duty towards children, and other funding sources available to the UK.
The Supreme Court ruling follows an earlier High Court ruling that the requirement interfered with “spousal relationships”. The Court of Appeals then dismissed that decision leading to immigration campaigners taking the case to the Supreme Court.
The justices heard challenges from two British citizens, Abdul Majid and Shabana Jawed, who cannot meet the requirement to bring their non-EEA spouses into the UK, and from MM, a refugee from the Lebanon who is resident in the UK and in a similar position, and his nephew AF.
In Wednesday’s ruling the justices allowed the four appeals “to a limited extent”.
They held that the minimum income requirement “is acceptable in principle”, but that the rules and instructions “unlawfully fail to take proper account” of the Home Secretary’s duty under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children when making decisions which affect them.
Campaigners say the rule has led to so-called “Skype Families” – parents having to maintain relationships with their partners and children via video messaging services.
However, Saira Grant, Chief Executive at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), a party to the case, remained optimistic: “This judgment is a real victory for families especially those with children. For five years JCWI has been working with affected families and has been trying to persuade the Government to abandon the Family Migration Rules it introduced in 2012 because they are tearing families apart and significantly harming children.
“The Supreme Court has now declared this to be the case. These Rules are unlawful as they do not safeguard the best interests of children.
“The strict requirement that only the sponsor’s personal finances can allow the £18,600 threshold to be met has also been discredited.
“The Supreme Court has said that alternative funding sources should be taken into account when a person’s right to family life could be breached.
“These are significant victories for families up and down the country.
“This judgment confirms that the Government’s position is now untenable and they must now take immediate steps to protect the welfare of children in accordance with their legal duty.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The court has endorsed our approach in setting an income threshold for family migration that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and ensures migrant families can integrate into our communities.
“This is central to building an immigration system that works in the national interest.
“The current rules remain in force but we are carefully considering what the court has said in relation to exceptional cases where the income threshold has not been met, particularly where the case involves a child.”