Immigration Rules: Impact on Families — Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 3:41 pm on 4th July 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 3:41 pm, 4th July 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any plans to review the social and economic impact on families of recent changes to the immigration rules.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I could fill my limited minutes and everybody else’s with examples of the impact of the family migration rules introduced a year ago this month. The media covered some of them when the all-party group launched the report by the inquiry that I had the privilege to chair. Those affected tell better than I can the outrage, confusion, puzzlement and anguish of British citizens and taxpayers who had never for a moment expected that their country would put such obstacles in the way of them living with their family in that country.

The All-Party Group on Migration is supported by the Migrants’ Rights Network, which wrote the report, and I thank it very warmly. The report looks at changes to the rules that had previously required someone seeking to sponsor a non-EEA partner and any children to demonstrate the ability to maintain their family without recourse to public funds. Immediately before last July, that was equivalent to income support—about £5,500. A number of sources and a range of evidence of income were counted. Now the minimum income requirement is £18,600, a level that is not attained by getting on for half of British workers, and there are considerable regional variations. The minimum income requirement is greater when there are children and can be met only through limited sources. Those who are successful at the initial stage of application must meet other criteria at later stages, but it is too soon to see their impact.

There is also a block—I use that term advisedly—on applications by adult dependent relatives to join British citizens and permanent residents here. They have to demonstrate a very high level of dependency, one which suggests to me that they would not in fact be able to travel, and that the sponsor’s financial support is not sufficient to provide care in their own country. Will the Minister give an example of when an application by anyone in this group could be successful? If you have the money to meet the requirements to come here, you have the money to be supported in your original country.

The Migration Advisory Committee was asked about the income needed to support applicants,

“without them becoming a burden on the state”.

That is an economic remit, and it gave economic advice, but as the MAC recognised, there are also legal, moral, and social dimensions. Our report calls for an independent review as to these impacts. Noble Lords will be familiar with the work of Oxford University’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society. COMPAS is just the sort of organisation I have in mind to do such a review. It also calls for a review of the income level and how the system is working. I am well aware that the Government have said in recent answers to Parliamentary Questions that the rules are working as intended. They say that they will keep the impact under review without having any proposal to conduct an immediate review.

A study by Middlesex University suggests that preventing up to 17,800 migrant partners—the Government’s estimate—from coming and working here will cost the UK as much as £850 million over 10 years in lost economic activity. There is no evidence that most migrant partners have claimed public funds during their first five years here. Most, in fact, work and pay tax, and want to do so. Conversely, excluding a partner may increase claims on the state. A single parent may need support, which would not be necessary if there were two parents here to share the care of the child. Both sets of rules are driving out some of the very people who contribute significantly to our society. Of course, that is a double win if this is a numbers game.

The reality of the finances of many families does not fall neatly within narrow criteria. What about an incoming partner’s employability and earnings or indeed a significant job offer? Surely it would be sensible to review the exclusion of these. A lot of employment does not come within tier 2, an alternative route which is often suggested as being available. What about self-employment? It is subject to peaks and troughs and it is not always evidenced in the easy ways that the Government would want; but as a country we want entrepreneurial spirits. What about the length of time that savings must be held and their form when an applicant relies on savings in lieu of earnings? This affects people over a range of circumstances. I have to say that I think anyone holding an awful lot of liquid cash is likely not to be handling his assets very well. I have just heard of a high-net-worth couple that we would surely want within our tax base here who have relocated to another country because of the rules. I urge the Government to review the application of non-cash assets. What about the assistance available from family members—members who feel it natural and who are desperate to help their younger family members? This is felt particularly acutely by grandparents who want to be part of their grandchildren’s lives but cannot if what they can provide by way of accommodation and money cannot be counted to meet the requirements.

A child’s early months and years are hugely significant in his development, not merely—if “merely” is the right word—his well-being. In another part of the legislative forest, a child’s welfare by statute is paramount; so says the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Noble Lords are of course very familiar with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and with Section 55. It was as recently as Tuesday that we discussed in debate on the Children and Families Bill a government clause providing for a presumption that the involvement of a parent in the life of a child will further the child’s welfare. The four UK Children’s Commissioners support an independent review and that the obligation to secure a child’s rights to a family life be reflected. The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration recommends that the best interests of the child should be referred to expressly in decisions. We now even seem to see parents who are not allowed to live here being refused a visitor’s visa. It is no answer that the Briton should take his British children and live abroad if that is not the best for his family. I heard someone affected by these rules on a radio phone-in say that he was building up a business here—and that there just was not much call for mortgage-broking in Nigeria.

There were some changes in April to the evidence of means that it is required but—this point applies much more widely than to this type of application—the evidential requirements are not sufficiently clear or straightforward for applicants to understand. I do not think it is appropriate that we have managed to create a system where the ordinary applicant has to find legal advice. Indeed, it is a sorry state of affairs if the scope for flexibility and discretion in an assessment is constrained by the abilities of entry clearance officers and other immigration staff.

I would like to talk about the time taken for dealing with applications and appeals, whether the objectives of promoting integration are achieved, whether the rules support family life—which is clearly an objective of the Government—and about the amount of taxpayers’ money which is being spent, and will be spent, on government lawyers defending decisions, but I have to leave time for others who I hope will talk about the real human dilemmas.

We have a higher income threshold than any other major western country except Norway. We are out of step with the rest of the EU. Is it right that if, for practical reasons, you are not able as a couple, one of you not being an EEA citizen, to move to Ireland or France to live and work there for just a few months and then come to the UK under the treaty as EU citizens, you are denied the opportunity to live in this EU country as a family?

We live in an interconnected world, a term which was used in the previous debate. British citizens fall in love with people from Canada, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Chile and Australia. We want to protect our reputation, a point which is often raised in connection with student visas. We want to protect our values, care for our parents, and have a family life. One of those values is fairness. These rules are not regarded as fair by so many of our fellow citizens. I therefore repeat the inquiry’s call for a review because of, as I have said, the outrage, confusion, puzzlement and anguish that are being felt.

Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour 3:52 pm, 4th July 2013

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for introducing this debate on changes to the Immigration Rules. I will concentrate on three areas that worry me greatly.

The first has to do with the way in which one is not allowed to bring one’s parents and grandparents from the country of one’s origin. The new Immigration Rules require that if your parents or grandparents are over the age of 65, ill, disabled or otherwise unable to function, you may not bring them so long as they have a sibling in the country of origin who can look after them, or can hire a nurse who can look after them. I find this simply extraordinary for half a dozen important reasons.

First, looking after one’s parents or grandparents is a privilege to be enjoyed and an obligation to be discharged. It is not something that you outsource to your siblings or a nurse. Secondly, it is not just a question of physical care, which a sibling or nurse can provide; it is about emotional reassurance and support during the last days of one’s parents or grandparents, which only you can provide. Thirdly, people would leave the country if confronted with the choice of either going to their countries of origin to look after their parents or staying here. In fact, we heard a moving submission from the British Medical Association written by Stephanie Creighton on behalf of a large number of doctors and consultants, many of them saying that they would leave the country. In fact, a couple of them have left already, simply because they could not bring their parents to live with them here.

Fourthly, I find the whole thing quite pointless. If our concern is to ensure that no demands are made on public funds, that is already taken care of. If people here bring parents or grandparents are prepared to look after them—they used to be able to do so—those parents or grandparents will not be dependent on public funds: in which case, what is the point of this rule?

If this were the only alternative for controlling immigration, I would at least concede the point of it. Canada does not follow this policy. It has a super visa under which parents and grandparents can be brought in for two years until such time as their right to permanent settlement is decided. In the United States there is no problem. In fact, a few years ago, when I tried to bring my parents here—they were in their 80s—my brother, who is settled in the United States, found it much easier for them to spend their last few years with him.

More importantly, if our concern is to create a culture in which the aged are respected, I should have thought that letting people bring in their parents and grandparents would be ideal. It sets an example to their children and to wider society and helps to shift the culture in which the old are seen as a liability or a burden. So far, I have accepted the terminology of the rules, which talk about parents and grandparents. There is a complete embargo on uncles and aunts. I come from a civilisation where very often uncles perform more or less the same role as parents, as they did in my case.

If your parents are dead or disabled, you might feel that you have incurred the same moral obligation and emotional commitment to your uncle as you have to your parents. There is no reason why one should impose a complete embargo. Immigration officers should be required to look at the nature of the relationship. If the relationship with an uncle or aunt is of a kind that one would recognise as filial, they should qualify.

My first concern is therefore simply this, and I really want to emphasise it: not allowing one to bring in parents and grandparents as long as there is someone else to look after them is simply morally unacceptable. It is also unworthy of a civilised society. We are asking people to outsource their obligations to somebody else and saying, “Do not worry, pass it on to somebody”. That is a culture that we should not aim to encourage.

My second difficulty with the Immigration Rules involves family visitor appeals. These are being disallowed and people whose applications have failed are being told that they can apply again. Family visitor appeals make up about one-third of all immigration appeals and a large number of them succeed. The Government say that they succeed because very often new information is provided at the appeal stage, but as I look at some of the applications I do not find that. In fact, what is called new information is often the exposure of implicit bias, important facts that were mentioned but neglected, or bureaucratic irregularity that is pointed out.

It is certainly true, as the Government have said, that in some cases new information was provided, but the House should bear in mind that this is not the only factor. Other factors that appear at the appeal stage include the way in which certain biases appear. It is therefore important that we should allow family visitor appeals.

My third concern is one which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, rightly pointed out: the way in which one is allowed to bring in spouses. This is a long story and many of us have spent at least 30 or 35 years fighting for the right to bring spouses. The Government require an income of at least £18,600. If a child is involved, it is £22,400. On current estimates, just under 50% of people simply would not qualify, because they do not earn that kind of money. For some of us in this House, like me, a university professor, £18,000 is not even a quarter of what one earns, but that is not what schoolteachers, nurses, UK Border Agency officers or even some sections of retired people earn. If we insist on this sum we will disqualify half the ethnic minority population, as well as many others.

Equally importantly, income fluctuates. In a volatile economy, jobs come and go. I might have a job paying £18,600 today, but tomorrow it might be much less. Nor do the regulations take into account the likely income of the spouse, or the way in which, among ethnic minorities and elsewhere, families generally chip in with their savings. I very much hope that the Government will reconsider this figure.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat 4:00 pm, 4th July 2013

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for bringing this issue to the fore and for her work on the inquiry that she led. One of the big differences between the United Kingdom and, say, Egypt, is that there is a very broad political consensus. Although we may argue between different sides of the House, and on occasion even more on this side of the House, at least we have fundamental principles that we believe in. Whether we are Liberal Democrats, social democrats, socialists, libertarians or Conservatives, we have certain values in common. They include, perhaps, the market economy, democracy, the rule of law, and all the things that bind us together and ensure that we have a stable, long-term democracy.

Two elements of that come within the area of family life. One is that the state should not determine who you can or cannot marry. The second is that families ought to be able to live together; the state should always allow them to live together. We can all think of exceptions. Sham marriages, of which there have been many, should be prevented; forced marriages are illegal and wrong; and the state splits up families when there is criminality by sending criminals to penitentiaries and prison, which clearly is right. However, whether families choose to live together, and who we marry, should be up to us as citizens. In particular, they are our rights as British citizens.

We have heard some of the background figures. Some 5 million UK citizens live abroad. We think of all the citizens from other countries who live here, but 5 million of us are elsewhere. Every year something like 150,000 of our citizens migrate from the UK for more than one year. They are not necessarily retired people—or gangsters, who used to go to Spain before the European arrest warrant but now go further abroad. Some 90% of them are of working age. Perhaps more importantly for this debate, two-thirds of them are single; they are not married when they go. We also know—I know this from my own family—that people go abroad, to university and to study, and they go abroad on gap years. Those areas are expanding.

What happens to the 90% of young, single people when they are working abroad and wanting to get on with life? Strangely enough, they tend to meet people and fall in love with them. We should celebrate that. Strangely enough, a large number of them get married and, praise the Lord, have children. This has happened in my extended family, and it will be something that increases. However, as we have heard, it is estimated that some 47% of these people would not have an income that would enable them to come back as a family unit, with or without their children, to the United Kingdom.

I will give two examples that I have come up against. I went to Buenos Aires over Christmas and the new year, because two members of my extended family had got married and had a son, who now has Argentinian as well as British citizenship. They invited us out there, and we met another British citizen who had married a

Brazilian woman. Now they as a family can no longer come back to the United Kingdom. I have had correspondence from someone whose family I knew a long time ago and who now lives in Canada. She is now married. She cannot come back to the United Kingdom with her spouse because they are not able to fulfil the income requirements.

We talk about those bad guys, the tax exiles, but we now have marriage exiles from this country, and children of British citizens who cannot come back and grow up in British society if they want to. We have British grandparents in this country who are unable to meet, look after and nurture their grandchildren and to see them grow up. That is the outcome of these regulations and of the legislation behind them.

Where do we look for our guidance? I looked back at some of the 2010 election manifestos. First, I looked at the Conservative manifesto, and I would like to bring the House’s attention to it. Right at the beginning it mentioned families. On page 41, and I am utterly with my Conservative coalition brothers and sisters on this, it stated:

“We will … make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe … Strong families are the bedrock of a strong society … We will help families with all the pressures they face … We will not be neutral on this … Britain’s families will get our full backing across all”—

I emphasise “all”—

“our policies”.

That clearly includes immigration and migration. Those points were reflected in the coalition agreement, which stated on page 14:

“The Government believes that strong and stable families of all kinds are the bedrock of a strong and stable society. That is why we need to make our society more family friendly”.

We are failing in this area, particularly on this issue. It will be a growing one, and it will affect all our families. It affects mine, although I am pleased to say that my wife’s son-in-law managed to gain entry before these arrangements came into play. I am an absolutist in this area, and I ask the Minister: do the Government, too, believe that the state should not determine who can marry or whether families can stay together?

Photo of Lord Kilclooney Lord Kilclooney Crossbench 4:07 pm, 4th July 2013

My Lords, in the 20 years that I was a Member of the other place, I never had a visa application case to deal with. Of course, that is easily explained. Representing Northern Ireland during the 30 years of the Troubles, I found that no foreigners wanted to come and live in Northern Ireland, so no visas were required. We got the odd foreigner coming up from the Republic of Ireland, but otherwise none at all. How times have changed. Immigration is now a big challenge in Northern Ireland, as it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom. We have tens of thousands of foreign people now living in Northern Ireland, from Lithuania, Poland and especially Portugal.

The report that we have before us today from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration is an excellent publication. All-party groups have had some criticism in the media in recent weeks, especially about staff, access to this building et cetera. However, I think that this is one of the finest examples of work by an all-party parliamentary group. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and her colleagues on the good work of their group, because it is a thorough, detailed and excellent report and certainly enhances the good name of all-party parliamentary groups.

I want to stress several points in the report before I go on to one particular example, without mentioning names. One is the delay in deciding these applications. I know of a case where a visa for a spouse, married to a United Kingdom citizen in Northern Ireland, was applied for in February 2012. The decision was made by the Secretary of State in May 2013—15 months later. That is an intolerable delay for a family unit as they wait to find out whether or not they will be awarded a visa.

On page 23 of the report, a submission from the Belfast Migrant Centre refers to the problem of the minimum income requirement, which is of course uniform throughout the United Kingdom. However, as the centre points out, average wages vary throughout the different regions of the United Kingdom, whether it is Scotland, Wales, the north of England or Northern Ireland. Is it fair to have a standard minimum income requirement when average wages vary in different regions of the United Kingdom?

I know personally the people involved in a case where a girl from Australia, loyal to Her Majesty the Queen, applied for a spouse’s visa. She had been working in the United Kingdom and had a work permit since 2008, five years ago. She is the unit sister of a 38-bed nursing home in Northern Ireland and went back to her home country of Australia in February 2011 to marry a United Kingdom citizen from Northern Ireland. He is from the third generation running a family firm in Northern Ireland, formed in 1975, which now employs 25 people. There is therefore no issue of a minimum income requirement in this case. However, the Secretary of State surprisingly reached the conclusion that she is married to a British citizen—which, of course, is correct—and went on to state in the decision: “As both speak English there are no insurmountable obstacles to both travelling to Australia together—as such your application fails”. It is unbelievable that that could happen. Someone who employs 25 people and who has been living in Northern Ireland for seven or eight years goes back to Australia to get married and is told that the application for a visa to live in the United Kingdom has failed. It is terrible for the married couple and has very adverse implications for a successful family firm.

While thousands of EU citizens flow into all parts of the United Kingdom each year—a net inflow of 200,000 per year, some of whom now probably work in the Home Office assessing visa applications—people from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, subjects loyal to Her Majesty the Queen, are being refused visas. Is it any wonder that support for UKIP is increasing as more and more people realise the implications of the present government policies on immigration and visas? I appeal to the Government to accept the recommendation of the all-party group that the whole procedure needs to be reviewed.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 4:13 pm, 4th July 2013

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on having introduced the debate. She was right to do so. It is very important that this matter should receive scrutiny and consideration in this House.

I am deeply concerned by the situation in which we find ourselves because it seems to me that when we talk about the kind of society we want to be in—we spend an awful lot of time talking about that—what really matters, and the values which we have as central to that society, should be evident in all aspects of our life. People, however reluctantly, can understand the need for immigration controls and immigration policy. That is true of this country and of our friends abroad. What upsets people is when, within that immigration policy, we do not follow through the logic which we say is vital to maintaining the values and behaviour which we see as being central to our nation.

I am really very disturbed that we are speaking with forked tongues on the issue of family. We keep emphasising the importance of family in our own society, but it does not apply to people who have been allowed through the immigration system to come and join us and make a contribution to our society. Either the family matters or it does not. I found the evidence submitted by the BMA, to which my noble friend Lord Parekh has already referred, very interesting. It talks not just about the personal pressures but about the quality of work undertaken by doctors if they are surrounded by their family or if they are debarred from having their family with them. If we see these doctors as essential to the operation of our health service—and, my God, they make a huge contribution to our health and well-being—it is terribly important that family values should apply, to enable them to perform at their best.

My noble friend, Lord Parekh, in a delightful but telling way, wove together the principle and practicalities of this. We all know, in our own families, how important grandparents are to the operation of the family, enabling mothers to work and running children to school and to their activities. Grandparents have a crucial part to play in the success of the family as part of society. It is shooting ourselves in the foot to say that we want people who are entitled to come through our immigration system, and to welcome them so long as they are making a full, positive contribution to our society, but then to deny those very aspects of life which will enable them to maximise their performance. It just does not make sense.

I also want to pick up on the more difficult, contentious issue of the operation of our penal system. If people have had sentences over a certain period of time they are subject to deportation. I have seen too much evidence that the impact on the children is not taken into account in these decisions. Sometimes there is a quite cynical neglect of any consideration whatever of the children in the paperwork and the rest. We were pioneers—I repeat, pioneers—in the creation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which, I am glad to say, the Conservative Party played a big part. We won great international esteem for the part we played, as I was saying the other night in our deliberations on the Children and Families Bill. We have a long way to fall and I am afraid we are falling. What people judge us by is not what we said at the time of the convention’s creation but how we actually operate the convention, not only in detail but in spirit, in our own society and the way we go about organising our affairs. I am not going to say there have not been some marginal improvements, and of course there are some very fine people working in this area. However, are we absolutely certain that the child is central to our considerations in all the work of the UK Border Agency and all the work of the Home Office on deportation in connection with crime? That is what the convention, which we helped to draft, demands. Is the child central to our considerations? This needs to be taken very seriously indeed.

In conclusion, all of us, whatever our party differences across the House, want to live in a nation that feels at peace with itself—a nation that is confident in the underlying principles in our society. We all want to be seen as a nation that is not only successful and achieving in materialist terms but whose characters of compassion, care and concern are self-evident in everything that we do and the way that we go about it. I am not denying the need for an immigration policy—of course I am not, it would be nonsense—but those principles, which are admittedly difficult and challenging, have to be seen as applying in the operation of that policy. I am glad that the noble Baroness has given us the opportunity to look at these issues. Some of them need to be examined very carefully indeed.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 4:21 pm, 4th July 2013

My Lords, a huge amount of concern has been expressed outside this House about the Government’s policy of making it more difficult for near relatives to join primary migrants who are settled in the UK, contrary to the declaration that my noble friend Lord Teverson quoted, which appears in both the Conservative manifesto and the coalition agreement, and states that,

“strong and stable families ... are the bedrock of a strong and stable society”.

Instead, the Government have divided husbands from wives, parents from children, and elderly dependants from those who want to look after them in their final years. They have weakened family unity and made it harder for migrants to contribute their full potential to our society. They are violating the right to family life and will face challenges, I hope, in the courts.

The Government intend to narrow the permitted exceptions in Article 8 of the ECHR beyond what is permitted in the convention. However, whatever is written into our legislation may have no effect on the jurisprudence of the European Court. If it follows the existing practice of the court, it is a pointless exercise, but if it is more prescriptive, the Government risk a series of expensive cases in Strasbourg, which is already grossly overloaded.

It has been almost impossible for a sponsor to bring an elderly parent to the UK following the amended rules that came into operation last July. From then until the end of October, only one visa was issued to a dependent relative, and, like my noble friend, I would like to know whether anyone else in this category has got past the barriers since then. Is it necessary and proportionate to prevent a migrant looking after an elderly parent? In many cultures, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, emphasised, it is an exigent duty to look after your parents in their old age, and making that virtually impossible is doubly inhuman.

Mrs M, aged 65, left her homeland in Iraq with her husband and they were living in Syria. A few years ago, Mr M died, leaving his widow entirely on her own. As the situation in Syria worsened, Mrs M applied to the UK consulate in Beirut to come here as the dependant of her two sons, both of whom are UK citizens. The brothers are poor but a well known charity stepped in to guarantee that Mrs M would be supported without recourse to public funds. When no reply was received to the application, the brothers asked me to help and I wrote to the Minister for Immigration in April. Two months later, I had received no reply, and I wrote again on 15 June. Today, exactly a year after the original application, her son got a refusal letter. So even where the financial and other conditions are satisfied, the Home Office avoids issuing the visa to an elderly dependant in a war zone.

The committee chaired by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who is to be warmly congratulated on such a professional job of work, found that 61% of British women citizens in work would not qualify to sponsor a non-EEA partner on the basis of their earnings. No account is taken of the provision of free accommodation by parents, other close relatives or an employer. The income threshold was also found to be discriminatory, because women’s earnings are 15% below men’s. The committee’s recommendations deserve sympathetic consideration, as do those of ILPA, BiD and the Migrants’ Rights Network.

To make matters worse, legal aid is no longer available for appeals against refusal of visas for spouses, children and elderly dependants, in spite of the fact that some of these cases are far too complex to be dealt with adequately by litigants in person, as we heard on Tuesday from the Red Cross and UNHCR at a meeting in this House. Many will turn on European case law dealing with the right to family life, of which few non-lawyers would even be aware.

I should like to give an illustration of this in the case of non-EEA victims of domestic abuse. They have a legal right to stay in the UK if they comply with Rule 289A of the Immigration Rules, which is explained in the 48 pages of guidance published under the imprint of the UKBA in April, even though it had been abolished a month earlier. On page 5 of that document, the applicant is told that she must also comply with E-DVILR, an appendix to the Immigration Rules, and other obscure requirements kick in for particular applicants. If the relationship is an informal one, the abused non-EEA partner is clearly even more vulnerable. The Black Women’s Rape Action Project says that the frequency of the abuse and the severity is often more extreme when the victim is an immigrant woman and even more so when she is not married and is in an informal relationship. Even worse, the victim’s presence in the UK becomes unlawful the moment she leaves the abuser. Informal relationship victims have nevertheless won cases before the First-tier Tribunal. I would like to ask my noble friend whether the Government will accept those decisions and amend Rule 289A accordingly.

The successive tightening of the screw on family migration, now being taken a stage further by the MoJ’s Transforming Legal Aid proposals, is not really aimed at saving money. It is part of the Government’s campaign to reduce net migration to below 100,000 by the time of the next election, an impossibility when at the same time we are seeking to attract more than the 206,000 students admitted last year. Family migrants accounted for under 10% of the total last year, but they and their British sponsors are being made to suffer in pursuit of what the Economist has called, “the Tories’ barmiest policy”.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Warwick Lord Taylor of Warwick Non-affiliated 4:27 pm, 4th July 2013

My Lords, I would like to add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for introducing this debate, and I thank her committee for its excellent report.

“No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”; that was the sign in many windows in Britain in the late 1940s when my father was looking for accommodation. Growing up in Jamaica, he had thought of Britain as the mother land. After fighting for the British Army in the Second World War, he was shocked to be asked, when he came to Britain, when he would be going back home to the Caribbean. But after scoring a century for Warwickshire County Cricket Club he changed overnight from being described in the local Sports Argus as a “Jamaican immigrant” to “local Brummie hero”.

Let us fast forward to August of last year. Instead of racist signs in windows, millions of British TV viewers and thousands in the Olympic stadium cheered a Somali immigrant running to double Olympic gold. What was also significant was that the man from Mogadishu, Mo Farah, was wearing a British vest. Today, many of Britain’s high flyers in public life, business, entertainment and sport are from immigrant backgrounds. This is why the all-party parliamentary group report is so important. It is not an inquiry just about a minority group; it is about the Britain of the future. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, have made the point that the report emphasises that there must be an independent review of the minimum income requirement, and the reasons for that are set out very eloquently.

The rules are such that children, including British children and babies, are being separated from their families. We know that the formative years of any child’s life are the most crucial. It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man. Keeping children away from their families is just storing up trouble for the future, as was so eloquently emphasised by the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Judd.

What really concerns me is the context in which we are debating these matters. Only today the Home Office produced a report that talked about the negative impact of immigration. It used phrases such as “asylum dispersal areas”; for example, Bolton. What the report did not do was emphasise the positive impacts of immigration. For example, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, mentioned, there is evidence from the BMA that the National Health Service has already lost some skilled foreign doctors because they have had to return overseas in order to care for elderly relatives. If you took away immigrants from the NHS and many of our public services, they would be in chaos. What worries me about the Home Office report is that it is really more about the coming election. It is creating an “us and them” attitude, which will play very much into the pathway of racist parties such as the EDL and the BNP. We need a society that comes together. We must argue and debate these matters in that context.

The Prime Minister has described the Government’s immigration policy objective as,

“good immigration, not mass immigration”.

The Government believe, and I agree, that they can reduce overall net migration levels while attracting more of the “brightest and best” migrants whose presence is deemed most beneficial to the UK. But good immigration should also be fair immigration. There is worrying evidence that the recent changes to the Immigration Rules are separating families and depriving Britain of skilled professionals, such as doctors. The Government need to commission an independent review now. Yes, the rules need to be firm, but they also need to be fair.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat 4:32 pm, 4th July 2013

My Lords, I wish that I had made any of the speeches that we have heard this afternoon. It has been a wonderful debate and we thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for making this possible. The report has emphasised the action that is making family life so much more difficult.

I fear that the old British hospitality is becoming British hostility—that is how it looks to those overseas. There is a knee-jerk reaction to so much that happens and half-truths take over from positive, full, thorough-going reports. It seems that if you want to make your home here in the UK, it is an obstacle course now—a difficult and very unwelcoming situation.

So much that we read in our newspapers seems to be there in order to create hostility and stir up opposition to people outside the UK. Of course, we are all immigrants. The English came to Wales, we came to England; we had 3,800 Welsh dairies in London. We have been a people who move, who are happy with each other, and so it should be today.

I read one paper today and there were four stories about the immigrants who are coming and how unwelcome they are, with headlines such as, “Immigrants sponging off the taxpayer”. But the Office for National Statistics says that while 13% of UK taxpayers claim out-of-work benefits, only 7% of immigrants do. Another headline was, “EU migrants take our jobs”. But the facts are that nine out of 10 new jobs are taken by British nationals. We also hear that the epidemic of health tourists is costing us billions. However, the British Medical Journal reported that more Britons seek health advice overseas than people from overseas seek health treatment here in the UK. Scaremongering creates hostility, both for immigrants and British citizens. It has no place in a civilised society.

As has already been mentioned by others in this debate, in the field of asylum and immigration it seems that we are making the door narrower and narrower and the obstacle course more difficult. Instances of this include the UK citizenship test, which we mentioned here the other day, and the low, frozen asylum support rates. An asylum seeker who comes to the UK must wait 12 months before being allowed even to consider taking a job. He must exist on £35.63 a week. That is the income. It is not, as some suggest, that £1,000 cheques are waiting for asylum seekers as soon as they arrive in this country. That is not the truth. The truth is that we make it more and more difficult for people who come to this country. Now, of course, there are new restrictions which will divide families. That is totally opposed to our British tradition.

I turn now to the “Life in the UK” citizenship test. I owe a lot to Dr Thom Brooks of Durham University for his investigation into these questions. This UK citizenship test is totally inappropriate. We are told:

“If you spill a stranger’s drink by accident, it is good manners (and prudent) to offer to buy another”.

People have to know that, and applicants are also expected to know 278 historical dates. Can any noble Lord tell me the height of the London Eye? You are expected to know it. There are 3,000 facts in this citizenship test. Even we could not answer all the questions. A little while ago in this Chamber I asked, “When did the Emperor Claudius invade Britain?”. The answer was “43AD”, but nobody raised a hand. The test makes it impossible for people who want to become part of a community here in the United Kingdom to have any confidence at all. Dr Brooks said that it is more like a bad pub quiz than anything meriting true consideration. The ladies here might like to know that in the test there are 29 historical figures who are men and only four who are ladies.

The Government are erecting more barriers and making entry into Britain nearly impossible, especially for those with little funding. Not only should we welcome people, we should welcome people who have talent and potential. A little while ago I was with the Watoto children’s choir, who come from Uganda. I asked them what they would like to be when they grow up. They are orphans, whose parents died of AIDS. One little girl said she wanted to be a nurse and a little boy said he wanted to be an airline pilot. We came to the last child, who was 10 years old and a feisty little fellow. “What do you want to be?”. “I want to be President of Uganda”. I thought that was a wonderful answer. People have dreams and they have abilities. Our approach to those who want to come to these shores should not be to close the door and make it difficult. We should not only assess the money they have, but also the abilities and dreams that they can share with us.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 4:38 pm, 4th July 2013

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, and his tribute to the contribution that migrants have made to this country across time. We have discussed many of those in our debate today. I join those who thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for calling this important debate and for the work of her all-party group and join my noble friend, Lord Kilclooney, in emphasising the benefits that such groups can bring to the parliamentary process. Only last week, three new sets of consultations around children in care, covering children missing from children’s homes, out-of-authority placements and data sharing, were produced by the Minister for Children and Families. These were a direct result of the work of Ann Coffey MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, and of that group’s report, produced jointly with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers, on children who go missing from care. These can be very effective instruments.

Although I have not looked in detail at immigration issues for some time, I have an inkling of the challenges that the Government face in immigration policy, as I served for five years on a sub-committee of your Lordships’ EU Select Committee tasked with looking at immigration policy. Indeed, I had the privilege of serving with the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Teverson. That experience made me particularly concerned that over-relaxed policies on migration allowed businesses to neglect some of the less work-ready youth of this country, because European Union labour could easily be found from abroad. We have all become more aware of the need for managed migration as we become aware of pressures on services, particularly school places, and especially of the housing shortage, and how these have contributed to social tensions. I pay tribute to the Government for their attention to the need to manage migration more carefully.

However, I am very troubled by the rules that we are debating today. The new income requirement for sponsoring a non-European partner affects UK citizens. Most of them are hard-working taxpayers and many are making an important contribution to our health service and especially to the care of the elderly. These points have been made various noble Lords.

The rules are pushing some women into dependency on the state, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. As lone parents, they can no longer afford to work. Most importantly, the rules are depriving children of their parents—their fathers in particular. They may have the effect of increasing pressures on housing and school places in London, as it is only here in London that mothers can hope to earn the income necessary to be reunited with their spouses, because of London weighting.

The four UK Children’s Commissioners have issued a statement detailing their concern about the impact of the rules on the rights of children to a family life. In their briefing, they said that the Government’s impact assessment for the new rules,

“barely makes any reference to a child’s best interests and fails to consider at all how these were considered in arriving at the proposals for change”.

They also reported their concern that decision-makers may not be considering the best interests of children in individual assessments of applications, as guidance requires.

The emerging evidence, as shown in the report from the all-party parliamentary group on the impact of the rules, shows that they are having the surely unintended consequence of dividing children from their parents, in particular fathers, with the potential for long-term damage. We all know the poor outcomes for boys growing up without fathers and all lament the increasing number of boys growing up without a father involved in their life. Not so long ago, as I attended the juvenile court in west London, it was drawn to my attention that the young people attending that day would occasionally have a mother with them but that no fathers were present at the proceedings.

Only this Tuesday, at Second Reading of the Children and Families Bill, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, we heard the Schools Minister defending a new legal presumption for the family court: that it is normally in the best interests of the child to have both parents involved in their upbringing. I hope that I have that correct. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, whom I am pleased to see in her place, made a very passionate and eloquent speech in that debate. She said:

“Denying a child adequate contact and time with both their parents is not in that child’s best interest. The sense of self-worth and confidence in any child comes primarily from one's parents, and continued contact with two parents can strengthen a child’s confidence, even after the trauma of divorce. I was interested to read in the Sunday Times … that even bad fathers should, with proper supervision and safeguards, be allowed time with their children”.—[Hansard, 2/7/13; col. 1119.]

It is that important.

I have several questions for the Minister. In formulating these regulations, was consideration given to the impact that they would have on children, particularly on those boys thus denied contact with their fathers? Can he say how many boys are unable to have regular contact with their fathers as a result of these rules? If not, can he say how many children are affected? Are the Government concerned at the impact on boys being denied access to their fathers as a result of the rules? Will the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to review these impacts and what steps they will take to ensure that any damage to children is minimised? That is rather a lot of questions and the Minister may prefer to write to me.

In considering these regulations, I was reminded of the experience of setting up the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre about 10 or 12 years ago. Again, this was to address a thorny problem with immigration. When families had exhausted all the processes for asylum, the Government needed to remove these families and some of them were unwilling to go. Eventually it was determined that some of them would be locked up in Yarl’s Wood. Unfortunately, that was a category C prison and so we had children, babies, young children and their mothers entering the reception area of the prison, being taken through a prison gate and all the locked doors in that prison, and being cared for by prison officers.

The Children’s Commissioner again played a very important role, visiting on many occasions and campaigning on the issue. I congratulate the coalition Government on deciding that this was not the right policy and reversing it. Visiting on one occasion, I remember meeting a 16 year-old girl who had been in that setting for, I believe, nine months with her younger sister. She was so angry: how could she, as a child who had committed no crime, be denied her freedom for all that time during her childhood? I had no way to respond to her on that occasion.

What really came across in the Yarl’s Wood experience was that there was no clear thought at the beginning of the policy about the impact on children and families. Over the 10 years, there was a great deal of change and consideration and, eventually, the policy was overturned. I hope that, in this case as well, we may see further thought from the Government and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 4:48 pm, 4th July 2013

My Lords, in view of the difficulty that I created in the previous debate by sitting down sooner than the Minister expected, perhaps I should say to him that I am not sure that I will take up all my allocated time on this occasion either.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for giving us the opportunity to have this debate and to discuss the report of the inquiry launched by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration. We have heard some powerful and passionate speeches, which I will not even attempt to emulate.

As has already been said, immigrants have benefitted Britain over a great many years. They have come to our shores to help build and develop some of our major companies, as well as sustain our National Health Service and win us Nobel prizes. It is because immigration is important that it needs to be controlled, and its impact needs to be fair for all. We need to build common bonds, including more emphasis on speaking English.

We also need to draw the distinction between immigration that works for Britain, and immigration that does not. That is why we support policies to bring down the pace of migration, particularly low-skilled migration, and why we support stronger controls on people coming to do low-skilled jobs.

However, some changes that are made to immigration rules can have unfortunate consequences, and today we are discussing one such change—a significant one. In July last year, as we know, major changes to family-related immigration categories came into effect. With limited exemptions, British citizens or settled persons wishing to sponsor their non-EEA national spouse or partner to join them in the UK must now demonstrate a minimum gross annual income of £18,600, and more if they are also sponsoring dependent children. New foreign spouses or partners must also wait for five years rather than two, as previously, before they become eligible to apply for permanent settlement in the UK. More restrictive eligibility criteria have also been introduced for adult dependent relatives of British citizens who wish to settle in the UK.

Last year the Government anticipated that the change would result in, I believe, up to 17,800 fewer family visas being granted every year, arguing that keeping the bar high for family migration could result in savings to the welfare bill. At the time, we expressed our support for strengthening the family migration rules to protect UK taxpayers and said that if people want to make this country their home, they should contribute and not have a negative impact on public funds. However, we cast doubt on the Government’s approach that focused so much on the sponsor’s salary, and said that there needed to be a fair framework for those who fall in love and build family relationships across borders.

The report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration on these new family migration rules, which has just been published, has already been referred to extensively. It highlights the impacts of recent rule changes on ordinary British citizens hoping to build a family in the UK with a non-EEA husband, wife or partner. Among the report’s key findings were that some British citizens and permanent residents in the UK, including people in full-time employment, have been separated from a non-EEA partner, and in some cases their children, as a result of the income requirement.

In addition, some British citizens and permanent residents have been prevented from returning to the UK with their non-EEA partner and any children, again as a result of the income requirement. In some cases the non-EEA partner was the main earner with a medium or high salary, but that could not be counted towards the income requirement under the new rules. On top of all this, the report found that some children, including British children, have been indefinitely separated from a non-EEA parent, once again as a result of the income requirement.

It looks as though the doubts raised about the Government’s approach, which was focused so heavily on the sponsor’s salary, have, unfortunately, been proved right. Among the recommendations made in the all-party group’s report was that the level of the income requirement should be reviewed with a view to minimising any particular impacts on UK sponsors as a result of their region, gender, age or ethnicity, and that family migration rules should ensure that children are supported to live with their parents in the UK where their best interests require this. We certainly see no difficulty in having a review without prejudging what its outcome might be.

I want to raise a specific point about our Armed Forces. As I understand it, the Government have now decided that members of our Armed Forces posted or fighting for our country overseas should not be exempt from the new family migration rules. Perhaps the Minister could explain the thinking behind that decision, as it is in marked contrast to the Government’s decision, announced yesterday, of an exemption for members of our Reserve Armed Forces in respect of the employment tribunal qualifying employment period when pursuing claims for unfair dismissal on the grounds of reserve service.

It remains to be seen what the Government’s response will be to the findings in the report and the recommendations of the inquiry launched by the all-party group. However, it does not look as though the new rules in their present form and the way in which they are being applied are, to put it mildly, doing a great deal to strengthen and enhance family life in what is hardly an insignificant number of instances.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:55 pm, 4th July 2013

I thank all noble Lords for contributing to a good debate and in particular my noble friend Lady Hamwee for tabling the Motion. It can but be a proper function of this House to scrutinise government and what it does. In this area, noble Lords have indicated in their speeches today sincere and genuine interest in the application of policy.

As noble Lords know, the Government are determined to reform the immigration system and restore public confidence in it. In that context we implemented in July 2012 a major set of reforms of the requirements to be met by non-European Economic Area nationals seeking to enter or remain in the UK on the basis of family life. The Government welcome the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration on its inquiry into the impact of the new family migration rules. In monitoring this impact, we will consider carefully the findings of the report.

Many noble Lords have spoken of their concerns about these new rules. The passion of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the challenges from my noble friends Lord Teverson, Lord Avebury and Lord Taylor of Warwick have provided us with a test. I enjoyed the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Parekh and Lord Kilclooney. I am not entirely sure that I enjoy the testing standards of my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno, but I am pleased that in his closing speech the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, demonstrated that we agree on many of the key issues and recognise the heart of them for government. I hope he does not believe that I presume too much.

Perhaps I can start by setting out the background to the changes introduced last year. My noble friend Lord Teverson focused very strongly on his concerns about family life in this country. The Government welcome those who want to make a life in the UK with their families, to work hard and to make a contribution, but family life must not be established here at the taxpayer’s expense. That is fundamental for the income test and is the reasoning behind the income threshold. We expect the new income threshold to prevent burdens on the taxpayer and promote successful integration. Those wishing to establish their family life here must be able to stand on their own feet financially. That is not an unreasonable expectation as the basis of sustainable family migration and good integration outcomes, on which I am sure all noble Lords agree.

The previous requirement for adequate maintenance was not, as it turned out, an adequate basis for sustainable family migration and good integration outcomes. It provided little assurance that UK-based sponsors and their migrant partner could support themselves financially over the long term. One of its considerable downsides was that it involved a complex assessment of the current and prospective employment income of the parties and their other financial means, including current or promised support from third parties. This was not conducive to clear, consistent decision-making.

That is why the Government decided to establish a new financial requirement for sponsoring family migrants. The level of the threshold was based principally on expert advice from the independent Migration Advisory

Committee. The levels of income required are those at which a couple, once settled in the UK and taking into account any children, because children can be included in the threshold by an additional threshold sum, generally cannot access income-related benefits. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lord Taylor of Warwick said that a family policy needs to be fair. The Government believe that this is a fair and appropriate basis for family migration. It is right for migrants, local communities and the UK as a whole.

The Government agreed with the Migration Advisory Committee’s conclusion that there is no clear case for varying the income threshold across the UK. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, will understand that it would be impossible to set a threshold for migration to Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. What would become of freedom of movement within the United Kingdom? It is unreal, and that is the principal reason why it has been ruled out. A requirement that varied by region could lead to sponsors moving to a lower threshold area in order to meet the requirement before returning once a visa was granted. It could also mean that a sponsor living in a wealthy part of a relatively poor region could be subject to a lower income threshold than a sponsor living in a deprived area of a relatively wealthy region. A single national threshold also provides clarity and simplicity for applicants and caseworkers. I think all noble Lords will agree that the Immigration Rules are complex enough. They have been complicated by politicians and lawyers, and we need to make the rules as simple as we can if we want an efficient and effective way of determining outcomes.

We have built significant flexibility into the operation of the threshold allowing for different income sources to be used towards meeting the threshold as well as significant cash savings. Employment overseas is no guarantee of finding work in the UK, and the previous and prospective earnings of the migrant partner are not taken into account in determining whether the threshold is met. If the migrant partner has a suitable job offer in the UK, they can apply under tier 2 of the points-based system.

We have also made significant changes to the adult and elderly dependent relative route, ending the routine expectation of settlement in the UK for parents and grandparents aged 65 or over. A number of noble Lords were concerned about this. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, made an eloquent speech about it. Close family members are now able to settle in the UK only if they require a level of long-term personal care as a result of their age, illness or disability that can be provided only in the UK by their relative here. The route is now limited to those applying from outside the UK. These changes reflect the significant NHS and social care costs to which these cases can give rise.

The report highlights some cases affected by the changes that we have introduced to this route. The new criteria for adult dependent relatives more clearly reflect the intended thrust of the requirement of the old rules that parents and grandparents aged under 65 and other adult dependent relatives of any age be in the most exceptional compassionate circumstances to settle in the UK.

There should be no expectation that elderly parents and grandparents who are self-sufficient or who can be cared for overseas should be able to join their children or grandchildren in the UK. That is the policy intention and the cases which have been highlighted are not unintended consequences. They demonstrate how the policy is intended to work.

The new family rules are intended to bring a sense of fairness back to our immigration system. The public are rightly concerned that those accessing public services and welfare benefits have contributed to their cost. The changes we have made are having the right impact and they are helping, I hope, to restore public confidence in the immigration system.

The number of partner and other family route entry clearance visas issued in the year ending March 2013 is 37,470. It has fallen by 16% compared with the year ending March 2012. I can assure all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate—the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, approached this with a great deal of understanding of the issues—that we will continue to monitor the impact of the rules. Since last July we have made some adjustments to the rules in response to feedback from customers and caseworkers. These include allowing those in receipt of research grants paid on a tax-free basis to count the amount on a gross basis and counting investments transferred into cash savings within the period of six months before the date of application. My honourable friend Mark Harper has also indicated, in a parallel debate in another place, that he would consider representations made on parts of detail about the operation of other aspects of the rules. I hope noble Lords feel that this debate has been worth while. Certainly the report of the APPG has been worth while.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

The Minister, in his usual way, is replying with great courtesy and concern. We all appreciate that. He referred to the complexity in the regulations and the difficulties for caseworkers and, indeed, we might add, border officials and the rest in applying those regulations. Does he not agree that that is why it is so important that certain salient points of guidance should be expressed all the time by Ministers and others, such as the paramount importance of the child, the rights of the child and the situation of the child in the midst of this jungle of complexity?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would agree with the noble Lord that our policy here within the UK is a strong focus on family—and indeed on children. It could be argued that there is a dichotomy here between an immigration policy that is designed to limit numbers and reduce net migration and the maintenance of family structures.

I was going on to seek to answer the noble Lord’s points on a number of issues because he did ask about the impact on children. We recognise the importance of the duty under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK. The consideration of the welfare and best interests of children is taken into account in immigration policy. The noble Lord came in right on cue even if I have not been able to satisfy him totally.

My noble friend Lord Avebury asked whether any adult dependent relative visas have been issued since October 2012. I can give him an answer to that. In the year ending March 2013, 5,066 visas were issued to other family members according to published Home Office statistics. These figures do not separately identify adult dependent relatives of British citizens and settled persons in the UK.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked what consideration of the impact of policies on boys denied contact with the fathers, and of the impact of policies on both boys and girls, was taken into account in the development and implementation of the new rules. We do not know how many children are affected by the rules. Where the effects of refusal under the rules would be unjustifiably harsh, there is a provision to grant leave outside the rules on a case-by-case basis if there are exceptional circumstances.

I said before that this has been a good debate, not least because there have been three John D Taylors speaking in it. I am grateful to all noble Lords, however, for their contributions. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Hamwee for bringing the report to the attention of the House and of the Government. We welcome all contributions to the debate on how best to ensure that family migration is done on a properly sustainable basis. I am grateful to have the chance to hear the views on these issues. I am conscious that I have not replied to every point that has been raised in this debate but, with the leave of noble Lords, I will write a commentary on the debate, covering all points made, addressed to my noble friend Lady Hamwee and copied to all participatory Peers, and place a copy in the Library.

House adjourned at 5.11 pm.