Home Office Policies Driving Families Apart
Love has been said to conquer all, however, it may have met its match when it comes to the Home Office, as increasingly costly and stringent visa application processes are wrongly denying many genuine UK-EU couples the right to family life in the UK.
As the Home Office attempts to reduce the number of sham marriages and marriages of convenience that take place in the UK, the application process for a Spouse Visa UK has become increasingly strenuous. A Freedom of Information request revealed that in 2018, 2,868 marriage registrations were flagged as potentially fraudulent, marking a 40% increase from 2014.
With the implementation of Theresa May’s hostile environment policy in 2012, which makes residing in the UK as difficult as possible for those without leave to remain, such figures could represent the increasing pressure and suspicion felt by those working under the policy. This March, another hurdle was introduced for UK-EU couples as the Government announced that if a partner is to miss just one interview for their application, the Secretary of State has the right to dismiss their application completely, even if the couple satisfy all other requirements.
Another barrier for UK-EU couples and their children attempting to settle in the UK is a financial one. The average cost of a Spouse Visa currently stands at £1,523 per person and this increases by £3,800 for the first child in the family unit, and by an additional £2,400 for every child after this- not to mention that the Visa itself requires applicants to be earning a minimum of £18,600 to be eligible in the first place. These costs also neglect to include those that migrants need to pay for their compulsory English language test, lawyer fees, to register their biometric information and the Immigration Health Surcharge which has doubled from £200 to £400 a year this January. However, according to Full Fact, as many as 41% of the UK population fail to meet the income threshold required for this visa, creating yet another barrier for families across the UK and EU.
With refusal rates of the Spouse Visa increasing, and statistics suggesting that certain ethnicities are more likely to face refusal than others, the maintenance of familial relationships through platforms such as Facetime and Skype has become an increasingly common occurrence. The ability to see your partner or child’s face through a small screen and a winding maze of data can in no way compare to the comfort of a personal connection, yet this does not prevent such a cruel fate from occurring to genuine familial units nationwide.
Even those that are fortunate enough to meet the financial criteria for a Spouse Visa are up against the odds as it boasts one of the highest refusal rates of any UK Visa. The Home Office’s ‘genuine relationship test’ is a hurdle that many applicants fail to overcome too, as many struggle to submit an adequate amount of evidence to prove their relationship is genuine or subsisting and can be refused for supplying either too much or too little. Evidence can include photographs, marriage certificates, bills and general correspondence between the couple. This process itself can already be invasive and arduous for many, and with such efforts appearing increasingly futile, thousands are left feeling hopeless in the face of such uncertain and strenuous times.
As of 2021, the skills-based immigration plan which will be enforced along with Brexit will mean that for all European entrants to the UK, applying for a Visa will become mandatory. More EU nationals than ever will need to apply for a Spouse Visa to enter the UK, and with a reputation for its notoriously taxing application process, many will feel disadvantaged and faced with the harrowing prospect of being torn apart from their families if they are unable to satisfy such exhaustive requirements.
Ultimately, attempts to crack down on the number of sham marriages have left thousands of innocent families caught in the crossfire, and unjustly separated from their loved ones. Extortionate financial costs, income thresholds and unfair application procedures have also contributed to the rising number of UK-EU families that have been separated and with increasing suspicion from the Home Office continuing, it is likely that many will continue to face such daunting prospects.
By Bethany Morris from the Immigration Advice Service – the UK’s leading organisation of immigration solicitors.| @IASImmigration