Written statement to Parliament

Consultation on family migration

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

This written ministerial statement was laid in the House of Commons by Damian Green and in the House of Lords by Baroness Browning…

This written ministerial statement was laid in the House of Commons by Damian Green, and in the House of Lords by Baroness Browning, on 13 July 2011.

Today, I am publishing a consultation on family migration. Immigration has enriched our culture
and strengthened our economy, but uncontrolled immigration places pressure on our public services and on community cohesion. The government has already introduced a limit on non-European Economic Area economic migrants entering the UK; has reshaped tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system to increase selectivity and skills requirements; has started implementing changes to Tier 4, the student visa system; and is currently consulting on breaking the link between economic migration and settlement, and on other temporary work routes. These policies will reduce net migration, but we need to take action across all routes to ensure this returns to sustainable levels and we bring a sense of fairness back to our immigration system.

This consultation on family migration is the next in our programme of immigration reforms. In the year to September 2010, family migration accounted for around 17 per cent of all non-EU immigration to the UK.

The proposals included in the family consultation are aimed at tackling abuse, promoting integration and reducing burdens on the taxpayer. A contribution to
reduced net migration would be welcome but is not the primary goal. The focus is on delivering better family migration: better for migrants, for communities and for the UK as a whole.

The consultation concentrates on the family route: those non-EEA nationals entering, remaining in or settling in the UK on the basis of a relationship with a
British citizen or person settled in the UK. This includes fiance(e)s, proposed civil partners, spouses, civil partners, unmarried or same-sex partners, dependent children and adult and elderly dependent relatives. In 2010, 48,900 visas were granted to people on the family route, of which 40,500 were issued to people on the basis of marriage or civil or other partnership, and 8,400 were issued to dependants.

We set out firm proposals for reform of the family route. The key elements are: a minimum income threshold for sponsors to provide appropriate maintenance, on which we have asked the Migration Advisory Committee to advise; in line with other routes, extending the probationary period from two years to five years before a spouse or partner can apply for settlement (and before which non-contributory benefits may not be claimed. Access to the labour market, to the NHS and to schooling will be unaffected by this change); and a requirement to understand everyday English before settlement is granted. We propose that all those seeking settlement or citizenship should demonstrate an appropriate level of English, and we will consider whether changes to the current testing regime could further assist integration.

We also propose to help UK Border Agency caseworkers consider spouse and partner applications by defining what we mean under the rules by a genuine and
continuing relationship, marriage or partnership; to end immediate settlement, and immediate access to benefits, on entry for spouses and partners who have been married or in a relationship for at least four years before coming to the UK, and for adult dependent relatives, including those aged 65 or over, and to require both groups to complete a five-year probationary period; and to look at arrangements for dependent relatives aged 65 or over to settle in the UK, reflecting health and social care costs to the taxpayer.

The consultation also invites discussion on some broader propositions, particularly in relation to tackling sham marriages and forced marriages. On sham marriages these build on existing joint work between the UK Border Agency and the General Register Offices across the UK, local registration services and the Anglican Church. They also explore the case for legislative change in England and Wales, including making ‘sham’ an impediment to marriage and allowing a marriage to be delayed while a suspected sham is investigated.

It is important that we look at family migration in the round and so the consultation also deals with other family migration issues.

In 2010, 45,200 dependants under the points-based system were granted a visa with a route to settlement in the UK. The consultation proposes moving to a 5-year probationary period and everyday English for settlement for the spouses and civil and other partners of points-based system migrants, in line with other groups.

Many British citizens and persons settled in the UK have family members living outside the UK. This results in a high volume of visa applications from people
wishing to visit family here. In 2010, 350,300 family visit visas were issued, with around 73 per cent granted on initial decision by the visa officer. In 2010-11, 95 per cent of family visit visa applications were decided by the UK Border Agency within 15 working days.

We have reviewed the arrangements for the operation of the family visit visa. We are concerned that taxpayer funding of around £40 million per year is being spent on appeals where appellants are commonly misusing the appeals system, by submitting information on appeal which should have been put forward as part of the original application, or where a second application (costing another £76) is the most appropriate route for securing a visa. We are also concerned that this is a disproportionate use of taxpayer funding (for an appeal process which can take up 34 weeks to be concluded) for the benefit sought: a short-term visit to the UK. Greater priority should be given to appeal cases that have far-reaching impacts for the individuals concerned and for the public at large, for example asylum claims, settlement applications and the deportation of foreign criminals.

In the light of this, we are reviewing the full right of appeal for family visit visas and we invite views on whether there are circumstances in which an appeal right should be retained, beyond the race discrimination and human rights grounds which, in line with other categories of temporary entry clearance, will continue to be available.

Finally, the consultation invites discussion on the balance to be struck on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life) between individual rights and the public interest in public protection and maintaining immigration controls. Article 8 is not an absolute right and our proposals aim to set out requirements that must be satisfied in family migration cases which are consistent with our ECHR obligations. We also want to be clear about the circumstances in which the public interest will outweigh an individual’s Article 8 right.

Details of the public consultation can be found on the UK Border Agency website and a copy will also be placed in the library of the House.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks, until 6 October 2011, and we will announce our firm plans in due course, with a view to implementing changes during 2012.

Tuesday, 13 July 2011

Date: Wed Jul 13 10:44:11 BST 2011