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Reunite Families UK report details the ‘devastating’ impact of immigration rules for spouse visas on families and children


Family migration rules are expensive, complex, and fraught with uncertainty, confusion and long waits

Date of Publication:

A significant new report by Reunite Families UK (RFUK) examines the 'devastating' impact of the UK's immigration rules and policy on families and children. RFUK is a not-for-profit organisation that supports families who are affected by the spouse/partner visa rule.

Report coverYou can download the 93-page report here.

The report is based on an October 2023 technical report commissioned by RFUK and authored by Implemental on the impact of the spouse/partner visa rules on the mental health of children. A full copy of the Implemental report is appended to the RFUK report (see from page 45 onwards).

The research for the report included interviews, a focus group and a survey. Respondents included parents, specialists in health, education, academia and NGOs.

RFUK's report presents a general examination of how the UK's family migration rules and the financial requirements for a spouse/partner visa are impacting people's lives, with a particular focus on the impact upon children's mental health.

As the report notes, British or settled citizens must demonstrate that they have sufficient income to meet the minimum income requirement (MIR) and be able to sponsor someone for a spouse/partner visa. At present, a minimum annual income £18,600 is required, though the Government announced earlier this month that the figure is to be increased to £38,700 in the spring of 2024.

The report by RFUK describes a system that is not only expensive but also complex and "fraught with uncertainty, confusion and long waits".

RFUK identifies the following four key findings:

  • The requirements create single parent families and impose a very high economic, social and emotional burden on all affected families.
  • The effect is discriminatory because it is felt disproportionately by women, young people, and those living outside of London or the South East, and working single parents (usually mothers).
  • The overall effect makes it harder rather than easier for mixed nationality families to integrate into society, which is the opposite effect to that intended by the Rules.
  • British citizens and settled residents are very badly affected by these rules; with significant impact on the mental health and well-being of British children.

With spouse/partner visa applications taking months to be processed, the report finds family members are likely to be separated for a minimum of one year. Among those surveyed for the report, 88% of respondents were separated for more than a year, 53% for more than 3 years, and 23% for more than 7 years.

RFUK said: "The complexity of the process and the challenges that the rules present, results in families experiencing periods of separation. – which are often long, and in some cases permanent. As a result, marriages have broken down; children have lost contact with parents; or in some instances have never had the opportunity to form lasting bonds with one parent. their education; and mothers face particular challenges in meeting the Rules."

92% of survey respondents said that their child's mental health was negatively impacted due to the separation.

The report states: "[P]arents reported children suffering from a range of very serious mental health conditions as a result of the separation, including suicidal ideation and depression. Children of different ages will be impacted differently. Parents report that young children do not understand the situation, and experience confusion as to why they cannot see their missing parent. This can contribute to feelings of being 'unloved' or 'abandoned'. As children get older and begin to understand 'why' this is happening, they can develop a feeling of being unsupported by the state or the system. Misbehaving and lashing out was cited by families. Older children with greater access to information may also be at more risk of worrying about their parent abroad, if they live in a less safe country."

As a result, RFUK finds British children are growing up perceiving that the diversity of their family is not valued and not welcome in the UK, in contradiction to the progressive ideals of a diverse and inclusive nation.

The RFUK survey also found that the current £18,600 MIR was the biggest reason for people not being able to gain a visa. Half of respondents said they were unable to meet the MIR.

As the report highlights, the proposed increase of the MIR would make a spouse visa unreachable for even more people: "Considering the proposed increase to the MIR, the majority of RFUK's survey respondents would not be able to meet this threshold. 74% of respondents earnt less than £30,000, and 77% earnt below £39,999. There is a distinct correlation between length of separation and wage, with those who earn under the MIR being far more likely to face long or indefinite periods of separation."

Given that the MIR lacks sensitivity to regional pay disparities, people living in areas such as the North East, Yorkshire, Wales, Northern Ireland, are all likely to face further disadvantage in relation to the rules' financial requirements.

RFUK further highlights that even a successful visa application is followed by many more years of expense and uncertainty: "Once families have secured the visa, they must continue to pay visa fees, renewals, Immigration Health Surcharge and so on for five or ten years more, before they can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, which is a permanent status. Should they wish to apply for British Citizenship down the line, this is also a large expense. These years on the temporary visa entail ongoing financial pressure, along with a sense of perpetual uncertainty around their ability to stay in the country as a family."

In the report's conclusion, RFUK notes that the Prime Minister has spoken of family values being at the heart of his policies, yet mixed nationality families are being devastated by the Government's policies.

"The rules are not meeting their aims. They are not considering children's best interests; they are not protecting children, or respecting family life. They are not protecting taxpayers money, but instead are creating great costs for the state down the line, and diminish the enormous potential contributions that these families could make to our society," RFUK said.

The report makes a number of recommendations and calls for a fundamental review of the rules.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported on Sunday that RFUK has instructed Leigh Day Solicitors to explore a potential legal challenge over the Government's plans to increase the MIR to £38,700.

Caroline Coombs, the co-founder and chief executive of RFUK, told the Guardian: "I have never seen our community so galvanised and upset. … To declare it just before Christmas and leave people with no details is just utterly cruel. …We have instructed the law firm, Leigh Day, to advise us on potential legal avenues. Given the absolute lack of information currently provided on the policy, we want further detail from the Home Secretary on the policy as a first step."

RFUK added in a press release that they have been inundated with requests for advice since the Home Secretary's announcement on 4 December. "Understandably, people are extremely worried about the lack of details of the policy, including whether it will apply retrospectively and/or to families already on the route. This uncertainty is causing additional distress," RFUK said.