UK citizens are being forced into exile by the Home Office’s “irrational and absurd” minimum-income visa requirements, with some couples having no hope of ever being able to live together in Britain, the supreme court has heard.
UK nationals must earn more than £18,600 to bring over a non-EU spouse, rising to £22,400 if they have a child who does not have British citizenship, and by an additional £2,400 for each subsequent child.
Seven supreme court justices including the court’s deputy president, Lady Hale, will decide after a three-day hearing whether the rules contravene article 8 of the European convention on human rights, covering respect for private and family life.
Opening the case on Monday in a courtroom packed with dozens of families affected by the rule, including babies in prams, the appellant counsel, Manjit Singh Gill QC, said the law barred up to 47% of the working British population from living with a non-EU spouse in their home country.
“It has been said that death and taxes are certain; for some it is also certain they will never meet the threshold,” he said. “For many, £18,600 is completely unachievable. It is not like the case of the English language test where you can put in so many hours. This is effective for life, for half the British population. Parliament cannot have intended the law to be used in that way.”
The supreme court challenge, brought after the case was dismissed by the court of appeal last year, has multiple appellants. Two of them, Abdul Majid and Shabana Javed, are British and married to Pakistani nationals; a third, known as MM, is a Lebanese refugee. A nephew of MM, known as AF, is also an appellant, as well as SS, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Gill described the lengthy application process for a spousal visa, including costly appeals, as “torture” and impossibly complex for many families. The threshold is the highest in the world bar Norway, a country that has a far higher minimum wage that Britain, Gill said.
The aim of the minimum-income rule, as stated by the government, is for families to be self-sufficient, but Gill said the evidence was extremely uncertain that foreign spouses, who have no recourse to public funds, would be any additional drain on the taxpayer.
“An applicant earning £250,000 with a £3m property, where the partner is a British woman who is a full-time mother to children, would not be allowed,” he pointed out.
Referring to the so-called Surinder Singh route – whereby couples and families can move to an EU country for several months and re-apply to return under EU free movement laws, circumventing minimum-income requirements – Gill said the current law forced British citizens into temporary or permanent exile.
“The absurdity is quite staggering,” he said. “People being forced to leave the country and then come back. What on earth is the point of doing that? People are being forced into that situation and we are talking about British citizens – half the working population would face that absurd scenario. The gravity of the interference here [by the state] is particularly high.”
Gill questioned why the support of third parties, such as British relatives of the divided couples, could not be taken into account. “The other side say it is difficult to predict the continued support of third parties. One could say that the support of third parties may be more dependable than income from a job where a business may not tell its employers if it is struggling. It is completely irrational and without logic.”
The hearing continues for two more days with lawyers for the Home Office as well as those representing the children’s commissioner and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants will also submit evidence. A decision is expected within six months.