The UK Government has introduced new immigration rules with effect from 9 July 2012. These changes will affect non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) nationals applying to enter or remain in the UK under the family migration route. It means that people earning less than £18,600 are unable to get visas for partners from non-EU countries. British citizens who previously would have been granted a spousal visa are forced to choose between ending their relationship, splitting up their family or attempting to live abroad.
In addition, from October 2013, all applicants for settlement have to pass the Life in the UK Test and present an English language speaking and listening qualification. This is particularly challenging for very elderly relatives. Scottish examples of this have included a hospital consultant who is leaving the NHS to work abroad, in order to care for his mother.
The Independent newspaper gives other examples. Don Flynn, director of the Migrants' Rights Network said: "Being able to start a family in your own country should not be subject to the amount of money somebody earns. These measures create a two-tier system: those who are rich enough to live with whom they choose and those deemed to be too poor to live with somebody from abroad."
Scottish Labour MP Ann McKechin has been campaigning on this issue at Westminster and has been collecting a range of Scottish case studies. We have also had a couple of requests for advice from UNISON members who are concerned that they will be impacted by these new rules. These examples show how the rules are not only unfair on the individuals concerned, but also impact on our public services in ways that may not have been intended. For example, NHS Lothian this week quoted immigration rules as one of the causes of paediatric doctor shortages that may result in ward closures.
It is a common misconception that immigration rules only apply to foreigners. But these rules affect British citizens and often leave them in an impossible position. There have already been legal challenges and we can expect more. The government should have an urgent rethink.