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The real-life cost of the minimum income requirement for spouse visas

Written by
Samir Pasha and Naga Kandiah
Date of Publication:
30 January 2020

Proving your love may be easier said than done, and for some applicants of the UK spouse visa, it may be next to impossible. The UK Immigration Rules sets out its requirements for a spouse visa, namely, genuineness of relationship and meeting the £18,600 financial income threshold. On the face of it, these requirements seem reasonable, but there is a dark reality to these requirements where for some who have found these to be tantamount to the State forcing one to choose between one's citizenship and on the other hand, one's partner residing in another. As a result, in extremely sad cases, applicants have committed suicide because of their circumstances not fitting neatly into the spouse visa requirements.

This article looks at three real life case studies, and explains just how inept the spousal visa requirements can be for genuine visa applicants.

Case Study 1

This first case study looks at a Home Office refusal on the application of a spouse of a British citizen, working in the UK, who was rejected entry clearance.

The applicant in this case was a British national working as a teaching assistant who married an individual in Jamaica and applied for her husband to join her and her children in the UK. The applicant was the biological father of the children. However due to the sponsor being unable to satisfy the financial requirements her spouse was refused entry clearance. Prior to the sponsor having two children, she worked full time and could comfortably meet the financial requirements. However, after giving birth to her children, she had to take a part-time job to care for her children. The relationship was genuine, her income shortfall was not significant, however, the rigidity of the system and consideration of individual circumstances not only refused a spouse to join his wife, but also deprived the opportunity of building a relationship and sharing responsibility for his children. The sponsor clearly needed her spouse to join her to support her in the care of the children, in order so she can also eventually return to full time work, but this was not acceptable according to the current immigration rules.

One reflection point from this case is the importance, or lack thereof, the immigration rules places on the best interests of the child. The children were also British citizens, young, and are also protected by their Article 8 rights to a right to private and family life. This right seems to be non-existent when contented with the spousal requirements. The Children Act 1989 may state that the welfare of the child be of 'paramount concern', but this is lost in the rigid immigration system of requirements and thresholds. Entry clearance decisions should take into account the best interests of the child, because at such decisions currently stand, they can be considered to be depriving the child of significant family relationship. Even the courts are also unable to compete against the spousal requirements when facing such cases.

A second reflection point is the sponsor's choice to marry in the UK or another country of choice should not create such disparity in the individual's reliance on their fundamental rights. The State inevitably castigates those citizens who decide to marry overseas, and are punished by restricting their rights. The right to a private and family life, and the freedom to choose one's partner, is an exercise of fundamental human rights. Therefore, it can be argued that factors such as geographical location and immigration status should not be regarded as barriers in the determination of such applications; moreover, when the applicant has proved the relationship is genuine.

Case Study 2

The second case study relates to the application of a wife to renew her spouse visa, but the sponsor had only recently retired.

The sponsor had been working the UK for 21 years, whereby he was able to maintain his finances comfortably. His wife, 63 years old, was in the UK on a spouse visa, however, she was required to renew her visa. Her husband, children and grandchildren were all settled and British citizens. It was the fact that by the time of the renewal date of the visa, her husband had retired and was therefore unable to fulfil the financial threshold as a sponsor. The sponsor had contributed towards his pension, saved personal funds, and both had been financially supported by their children. These factors were nought in the face of the draconian immigration rules that the sponsor must be able to show an employment income of £18, 600.

The sponsor worked for over two decades in the UK, contributed to society and paid taxes, raised his children to be taxpaying contributors in society, yet the Home Office casts aside the financial benefits invested in society by this citizen and deems it reasonable to punish an old retired sponsor for marrying a non-British individual by curtailing his settled married life. The Home Office may state at this point that the £18,600 income imposition is crucial in such cases to avoid the couple falling on hard times and therefore become reliant on the State. This would be easily overcome by the Home Office's current restriction of no recourse to public funds for sponsored applicants. This couple had no need to recourse to public funds, as they had personal savings from working, the sponsor had his own pension, and their children financially supported both.

The first reflection point on this case study is the insensitivity of the immigration rules to expect an individual to continually work beyond their retirement age in order to satisfy the income threshold. Furthermore, at such an age it is understandable that one would like to live a stress-free life and in light of the circumstances that the applicant has grown children who are settled in the UK and can support their parents, this raises illogical barriers by segregating elderly parents from their families in times when they require this the most.

The second reflection point is that, should the applicant be left hopeless due to having no other means to remain and have to leave, this would critically breach their rights to live the life they have established here. Furthermore, if sent back to Sri Lanka, the unreasonable expectation upon an elderly lady to financially support and fend for herself without her family, is certainly a blind spot for the Home Office in making such a decision. Notwithstanding, the damage incurred to the rights of the husband, children and grandchildren of being deprived their right to a family life with their respective wife, mother, and grandmother.

Case Study 3

This third case study relates to a sponsor diagnosed with cancer and thereby could not meet the £18,600 threshold to sponsor his wife. As a result, in refusing the applicant the Home Office effectively showed to this couple that if they wanted to be together, the husband diagnosed with cancer could move to the applicant's country notwithstanding the undergoing of treatment for cancer. The Home Office has often been accused of being 'heartless and hopeless', and this case study perfectly reflects the heartlessness of the immigration rules that it exercises on those severely vulnerable.

The sponsor was no longer able to work due to his cancer diagnosis, and therefore his wife's application was rejected. This left the couple with no choice in the UK to be together; it is understandably necessary for a partner to provide comfort and support to their partner undergoing such severe health treatment. Instead, the Home Office's refusal made the statement that the UK did not care about the partner's cancer diagnosis, and he could always move to the applicant's home country and establish a life there; a country to which he had never visited nor had any links.

One of the main reflection points is the unreasonable expectation that the immigration rules has that a sponsor should maintain an income even in the face of extreme health adversity. To then expect the sponsor to get up and leave his treatment in the UK so he can be united with his partner is further salt in the wounds.

If the task of human rights law is to balance the entitlements of the individual against the needs of the State, then in this case it is submitted that the sponsor's insurmountable health circumstances should overrule the State's insistence on meeting a financial threshold.

Significantly, the handling of these cases reflect the failures of the immigration rules to assess cases based on relevant circumstances and thus failing to make informed decisions when determining cases. The impact on individuals and families of those who fall outside the financial threshold is deep, negative, and traumatic. Because of the financial threshold, 15,000 children grow up in 'Skype families', the only contact they have to their mother or father. The detrimental impact on these children cannot be overstated, and many have developed psychologically traumatic experiences as a result. The detrimental impact continues to inflict upon single parents who are unable to care for their children without sacrificing a job that fulfils the financial threshold. They are caught in a difficult situation, and having to make a dreadful choice of providing the care needed for their children at the expense of not having the presence of their spouse to assist with the care and responsibilities of their household.

The immigration rules should therefore develop a soul and a heart, to understand that not every applicant has a choice to fit neatly within their financial threshold, and to exercise flexibility in order to uphold the rights of their citizens without discrimination.