Press release

Radical immigration changes to reform family visas and prevent abuse of human rights

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A major overhaul of family migration will help stop foreign criminals hiding behind human rights laws to dodge deportation and ensure only migrants who can pay their way are allowed to come to the UK.

From next month, only those earning at least £18,600 will be able to bring in a spouse or partner from outside Europe.

Applicants lacking the financial support or language skills they need to play a full part in British life - without becoming a burden on the taxpayer - will be refused entry.

The home secretary has today also announced decisive action to protect the public from foreign offenders who try to abuse human rights legislation to prevent their removal from the UK.

New immigration rules will mean deportation should become the norm for anyone receiving a custodial sentence of at least 12 months. For criminals jailed for more than four years, the public interest in removal will outweigh the right to private and family life in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

For the first time parliament will have a say, through a commons debate scheduled for next week, on what level of criminal behaviour should outweigh human rights claims from foreign offenders.

Home secretary Theresa May said:

‘It is unacceptable that foreign nationals whose criminal behaviour undermines our way of life can use weak human rights claims to dodge deportation.

‘We want these new rules to make it clear when the rights of the law abiding majority will outweigh a foreign criminal’s right to family and private life. By voting on this in the house of commons, parliament will define for the first time where the balance should lie.’

Other new rules include:

  • only allowing non-EEA adult and elderly dependent relatives to settle in the UK where they can demonstrate that, as a result of age, illness or disability, they require long-term personal care that can only be provided in the UK by their relative here, and requiring them to apply from overseas;
  • requiring, from October 2013, all applicants for settlement to speak better English and pass the Life in the UK Test;
  • introducing a minimum probationary period of five years for settlement to deter sham marriages.

Income threshold

The income threshold of £18,600 is based on advice from the independent migration advisory committee (MAC), and is calculated as the level at which a couple generally ceases to be able to access income-related benefits.

The current threshold fails to ensure that migrants are able to integrate into the UK without becoming a burden on the taxpayer.

Home secretary Theresa May added:

‘We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard and make a contribution but family life must not be established here at the taxpayer’s expense.

‘To play a full part in British life, family migrants must be able to integrate - that means they must speak our language and pay their way. This is fair to applicants, but also fair to the public.

‘British citizens can enter into a relationship with whomever they choose but if they want to establish their family life here, they must do so in a way which works in the best interests of our society.’

Higher thresholds will apply to those seeking to bring non-EU dependent children to the UK: £22,400 for one child and an additional £2,400 for each further child.

The MAC’s analysis found that almost half (around 45 per cent) of current sponsors are either unemployed or earning below the £18,600 threshold.

The impact of the income threshold and other measures is expected to reduce the number of family route visas granted by between 13,700 and 18,500 per year.

As a consequence, the reforms will ease pressure on public services, with estimated savings to the UK taxpayer in the next decade of £570m in health costs, £530m in benefit claims and £340m in education costs.

Human Rights

The radical reform of the approach to Article 8 of the European convention on human rights, the right to family and private life, will be debated in parliament on Tuesday 19 June.

The new rules will set out clearly, as a matter of public policy, the basis on which a person can enter or remain in the UK as a result of their family life and how the UK border agency will balance the factors that can weigh for or against an article 8 claim.

Article 8 is a qualified right. While people have a right to respect for private and family life under article 8, it is legitimate for the Government to interfere with the exercise of that right, where it is necessary, proportionate and in the public interest to do so.

The tough new rules on deportation for different levels of criminality will also enable the deportation of those sentenced to less than 12 months if their offending behaviour is deemed by the secretary of state to be sufficiently persistent, serious or harmful.

Family visit visa appeals and private life claims

The family migration reforms will also bring an end to the full right of appeal for foreign nationals refused a visa for a short visit to see family members in the UK.

Provisions in the crime and courts bill will mean that in future the vast majority of failed applicants will have to re-apply, saving tens of millions of pounds and freeing up tribunals to deal with more serious cases. The cost of processing these appeals is estimated at £29 million per year.

Regulations to be laid in parliament shortly include an interim measure to restrict the full right of appeal to close family members until the crime and courts bill is passed.

Other reforms include abolishing the existing arrangement whereby a migrant partner can obtain immediate settlement in the UK where a couple have been living together overseas for at least four years.

The government believes it is unfair that a migrant partner who may never have been to the UK and who has made no tax or National Insurance contributions should receive immediate settlement on arrival. They will, in future, have to complete a five-year probationary period before settlement is granted, in line with other migrant partners.

The new rules will also considerably raise the threshold for those seeking to remain in the UK on the basis of private life. These will replace the current 14-year residence rule for settlement for those who overstay in the UK.

There will instead be a general expectation that at least 20 years’ UK residence (without family life) will normally be necessary to establish a claim to remain in the UK on the basis of the right to respect for private life.

Notes to editors

1. The government is reforming all major routes of entry to the UK in order to bring immigration back down to sustainable levels and reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. It has already taken action to restrict the number of non-EU nationals who can come here to work, introduced sweeping changes to the student visa system and brought greater control over who is able to settle in the UK. Today’s announcement completes the first round of reforms to the major immigration routes.

2. On 13 July 2011, the government published family migration - a consultation, which set out proposed reforms of the family route. These were focused on reducing burdens on the taxpayer, promoting integration and tackling abuse. The consultation ran for 12 weeks from 13 July to 6 October 2011. We received 5,046 responses.  Link here:

3. In July 2011, the government commissioned the independent migration advisory committee (MAC) to provide advice on the level at which a minimum income threshold for sponsoring a partner and any dependants on the family route. The MAC conducted its own consultation and published a report on 16 November 2011. Link here:

4. Link here to the statement of intent on the UK border agency website:

5. For further information contact Ben Biddulph in the home office press office on 020 7035 3857 or call the press office Newsdesk on 020 7035 3535.

6. For all the latest home office news, photos and video visit the media centre: or follow us on twitter at