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Latest UKBA proposals: UK visas for family members and settlement

28 July 2011

The latest immigration proposals, announced on 13 July 2011, seemingly show a shift in policy from curbing the number of students to impose stringent criteria on family members to join the main applicant in the UK.

The definition of immediate family members in the Immigration Rules is narrower than the one found in the 2006 EEA Regulations as it only comprises spouses, civil and unmarried partners as well as children under the age of 18.  Only migrants settled in the UK are allowed to sponsor their parents and grandparents, however the required threshold is higher, as compassionate and compelling circumstances might need to be evidenced pursuant to paragraph 317 of the Rules.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has shown an almost creative flair in devising ever new ways to achieve the twin goals of routing out abuses and loopholes in the immigration system whilst curbing net migration to the UK. Having expressed serious concerns about the number of migrants who either overstayed their student leave or used the student route to work in the UK, the UKBA recently introduced severe restrictions on the ability of students to be joined by their family members, to extend their leave and to work in the UK. Further, the attractiveness of pursuing a graduate level degree in the UK has been greatly reduced by the inability of future applicants to switch into the Tier 1 Post Study Worker Scheme past April 2012.

The UK Government has also been strongly criticized for abolishing the Tier 1 General Scheme (highly skilled route) on 6 April 2011 and for introducing a cap on Tier 2 migrants (work permit holders).

Until now, the UK has embraced an open door policy for family members who are able to join migrants on limited leave to remain or once they are settled in the UK. In addition, the FCO and UKBA caseworkers are allowed to use their discretion when deciding applications submitted by family members.

Amongst the new proposals the UKBA intends to abolish the right of applicants to appeal against a refusal of a family visit mentioning that the high number of appeals have now become a drain on public resources in a time of recession. As of 9 May 2011 migrants are no longer required to request the UKBA for permission to marry or enter a civil partnership in the UK.  Thus, the proposal for immigration officers to be involved in the day-to-day work of marriage registries following the abolition of the Certificate of Application. This development is somewhat reminiscent of the "primary purpose of marriage", a policy which the UK Government was forced to abandon due to the challenges brought in the English courts on both race and discrimination grounds.

Other controversial proposals are the prospective introduction of an income threshold as the one already in place for family members of Points Based migrants and to lengthen the probationary period after which a family member is  entitled to apply for settlement in the UK from 2 to 5 years. In addition, the settlement consultation which was launched on 9 June 2011 looks at breaking the link between coming to work in Britain and staying permanently. The main proposals include: capping Tier 1 to five years, applying a more selective process for settlement of Tier 2 holders, tightening of the route for temporary workers under the Tier 5 Scheme by restricting  the length of stay and the right to work and  bring in dependents and in the case of overseas domestic workers remove right to settle or change employer.

For family members, it must be noted that the UK remains a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and thus any policy which might be seen incompatible with the right of an individual to family and private life will be challenged in the court of law.

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Migra & Co is a private immigration company, regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC), reference number F200900038. This website is not a government website and as such, we are not linked or affiliated with the UK Visas and Immigration. We offer expert legal advice and flexible tailored solutions to both private and corporate clients to ensure that their immigration needs are met. If you wish to download or prepare a UK visa application form, you can do so free of charge by visiting the Official UKVI website.