This written ministerial statement was laid in the House of Commons by Mark Harper and in the House of Lords by Lord Taylor of Holbeach.
The Minister of State for Immigration (Mark Harper): This statement informs the House of changes to the Immigration Rules affecting members of HM Forces and their families, which will be laid before Parliament in September to come into force on 1 December 2013. Full details are included in a statement of intent which I have published today. Copies are available in the House Library and on the Home Office website.
Changes to the Immigration Rules affecting non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) nationality family members of British citizens and persons settled here were implemented on 9 July 2012 as part of the government’s overall programme of reform of immigration routes. Those changes aimed to ensure that non-EEA family members seeking to live in the UK will not become a burden on the taxpayer and will be able to integrate effectively in British society.
Under temporary transitional arrangements, non-EEA family members of British citizens serving in HM Forces were exempted from the family Immigration Rules changes pending a review of the rules affecting all non-EEA dependants of HM Forces personnel, including family members of Foreign and Commonwealth citizens serving in HM Forces. That review has now taken place and has produced a single set of Rules covering the non-EEA family members of British service personnel and also the families of Foreign and Commonwealth citizens serving in HM Forces (including Ghurkhas discharged since 1 July 1997). The new Rules will cover the dependants of service personnel currently dealt with under Parts 7 and 8 of the Immigration Rules. They are intended to align the treatment of non-EEA family members of service personnel with the general approach to family immigration. At the same time they aim, so far as possible and appropriate, to treat all non-EEA dependants of service personnel in the same way, irrespective of the immigration status of the sponsor. And finally, they make special arrangements, in certain respects, to cater for the situations brought about by overseas postings which are a feature of service life.
With effect from 1 December 2013, the following rules will apply to Armed Forces families:
- Service personnel who wish to sponsor their non-EEA dependants to enter or stay in the UK must meet a minimum income threshold of £18,600 for a partner, £22,400 for a partner and child and £2,400 for each additional child.
- A basic English language requirement will also apply to all non-EEA partners seeking to enter or stay in the UK. This will be in line with the current such language requirement which applies to the partners of civilians and of serving British personnel.
- Non-EEA partners of British and of Foreign and Commonwealth citizens serving in HM Forces will serve a five year probationary period before being eligible to apply for settlement.
- To qualify for settlement, non-EEA partners and children between the ages of 18 and 65 will have to demonstrate a knowledge of language and life in the UK. This will involve passing the Life in the UK test and holding an intermediate level English language speaking and listening qualification. This is a new, more robust, requirement which is being introduced across the immigration system from 28 October 2013 (as set out in the Home Office Statement of Intent on Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK for Settlement and Naturalisation published on 8 April 2013 and available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/182545/statement-of-intent-koll.pdf). Dependants of serving British citizens, most of whom are already subject to a knowledge of language and life in the UK requirement, will switch to the new requirement from 28 October. Dependants of Foreign and Commonwealth citizens serving in HM Forces, who are not currently subject to the requirement, will be required to meet it from 1 December.
The new Armed Forces Family Rules take full account of the principles set out in the Armed Forces Covenant, which states that service personnel and their families should face no disadvantage as a result of service. Accordingly, the new Rules will incorporate the following provisions specifically designed to accommodate overseas postings:
- Applications may be made from overseas for all categories of leave under the Armed Forces Rules.
- The duration of a settlement visa under the Armed Forces Rules will be extended to 5 years to enable a dependant to apply for settlement without having to renew their initial visa. This will remove the financial disadvantage currently faced by those who are overseas where application fees are more expensive than in the UK.
- Time spent overseas on an accompanied posting will be regarded as time spent in the UK for the purpose of calculating the residence required for settlement.
The new Rules will also remove some further anomalies and practical obstacles inherent in the current Rules. Where a serving Foreign and Commonwealth member of HM Forces naturalises as a British citizen, their family will be able to continue to progress to settlement; they will no longer need to switch immigration route because their sponsor’s immigration status has changed. Bereaved non-EEA partners of Foreign and Commonwealth citizens serving in HM Forces will be treated in the same way as bereaved partners of British personnel and will be able to apply for settlement immediately if the sponsor dies in service, even if the death is not directly attributable to service. And alongside the new Rules, we will deliver faster grants of settlement for service personnel on discharge, count reservist time on deployment towards residency requirements in the applicant’s substantive immigration status, and introduce an Armed Forces specific application form to facilitate identification and processing of applications from the Armed Forces community.
Transitional arrangements will apply to family members who already hold valid leave as a dependant of a service person, and to those who submit an application before 1 December 2013. These are set out in full in the statement of intent.
Taken together, these measures form a balanced set of provisions which reflect our overall approach to delivering a robust and sustainable immigration system, while taking account of the particular circumstances of the Armed Forces community.