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Dr Helena Wray

Research led by Helena Wray contributed to Home Affairs Committee recommendations that immigration policy should be more sensitive to the rights of families and children.

In January 2018, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee found that families often have difficulties reuniting in the UK due to rigid immigration laws and recommended that immigration policy should be made ‘more sensitive to the rights of families and children’.1

The Committee referred to a report by the Children’s Commissioner Family friendly? The impact on children of the Family Migration Rules: A review of the financial requirements, published in August 2015. This report was written by a research team led by Helena Wray, now Associate Professor in Migration Law at the University of Exeter. It had found that, as at 2015, around 15,000 children, most of them British citizens, were separated from a parent by the very high income threshold for sponsoring a spouse or partner to come to the UK. In most cases, the family cannot live together due to problems relocating abroad.

The income threshold, introduced in 2012, requires that the British sponsor of a non-EU spouse or partner must earn at least £18,600 a year, more if non-British children are also coming. The threshold cannot be met by about 40% of the working population, with higher percentages for women, those outside London and the South East, the young and some ethnic minorities. Its impact is exacerbated by demanding associated conditions (for example, that applicants have held a job at this level for at least six months before they apply) and has caused widespread unhappiness and anger. Many people do not see how they will ever be able to meet it and they face indefinite separation from their partner and co-parent

The Children’s Commissioner surveyed a hundred affected families and interviewed twenty. It found that all the children affected were suffering serious psychological and other consequences from the enforced separation. The report was also critical of the government’s claims for the policy, finding that the claimed welfare savings would not materialise. Quite the reverse, parents reported that the lack of a second adult in the family forced them to rely on benefits which would otherwise not have been necessary.

As well as informing the Select Committee’s findings, the report was cited by the Supreme Court in support of its finding that the policy does not comply with the government’s legal obligations towards children.2 The rules were subsequently amended although there are still many problems in ensuring children’s interests are given adequate recognition.

1 House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Immigration Policy: Basis for Building Consensus Second Report of Session 2017-19, HC500, para. 82.
2 MM v SSHD [2017] UKSC 10.

Date: 8 February 2018