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Stuart McDonald MP and Ronnie Cowan MP: Ludicrous targets have led to 'draconian' family migration rules

3 min read

Immigration rules should prioritise the right to family life by ditching the new financial maintenance requirements say Stuart McDonald MP and Ronnie Cowan MP.

Giving evidence to the new Home Affairs inquiry into immigration last week, Phoebe Griffith from the Institute for Public Policy Research told members that the net migration target has “created a whole set of quite perverse incentives” to restrict certain forms of migration.  There is surely no clearer example than the drastic changes to the immigration rules for non-EU spouses and partners introduced in July 2012.

In one fell swoop, instead of a light touch financial maintenance test which in effect required income levels of £5,500, an applicant wishing to join their spouse or partner here suddenly required to show their UK-settled sponsor earning at least £18,600 – plus £3,800 for a first child, and £2,400 for each extra child involved.  And while the family could previously make reference to third party support from friends and family, or the potential earnings of the non-EU spouse, the new draconian rules excluded such factors from consideration.

Analysis suggests that 45% of the UK population couldn’t afford to sponsor the person they loved.  In some parts of the country that rises to as high as 48% for couples and up to 66% for a couple with two children. The rules also disproportionately impact on the young, women and ethnic minorities.

Behind these facts and figures lie thousands of heart-breaking stories.  In 2015 England’s Children’s Commissioner published a damning report about “Skype Families” and how children growing up in these circumstances developed separation anxiety, became socially withdrawn, displayed eating and sleeping problems and could display anger and violence towards their peers and family. Some children reported feeling guilty and blamed themselves. 

Such tragic cases are rarely far away from MPs inboxes. So when we pitched the debate to the backbench business committee for consideration, it was easy to say – “…no doubt every one of you has had a constituent contact you about this issue”. 

So why would anyone want to introduce such a policy – among the most draconian family migration rules in the developed world?

The only explanation is the ludicrous and increasingly discredited net migration target.  Theresa May is less concerned about families being ripped apart and children suffering as a result, if that means making a tiny bit of ‘progress’ towards 100k.  

Today we make the case for prioritising the right to a family life; putting the best interests of the child first; and not making citizens have to choose between their country and their family.   At a minimum, that means ditching the new thresholds, and relaxing the rules again on the types of income that can be considered. 

Stuart McDonald is the SNP Member of Parliament for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. Ronnie Cowan is the SNP Member of Parliament for Inverclyde.

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