The UK Supreme Court has ruled that setting a ‘minimum income requirement’ for spouses of UK residents is not a breach of human rights in principle, but additional guidance is needed to make sure that individual cases aren’t treated unfairly.
This means that people who are resident in the UK will still have to earn more than £18,600 a year before they are allowed to bring their husband or wife to the country from outside the European Economic Area, but different factors should be taken into account when calculating that income.
Happily ever after?
One of the cases was brought by MM. MM is currently resident in the UK as a refugee. He and his wife are both from Lebanon. They met, fell in love, and in 2013 they got married. He is a PhD student at the University of Wolverhampton. She is a pharmacist with a BSc in nutrition. Since their marriage, MM has been unable to apply for his wife to come and live with him, because of the minimum income requirement.
The ‘minimum income requirement’ in plain English
UK immigration rules include a ‘minimum income requirement’ which was introduced in 2012. The requirement is that MM must have a minimum income of £18,600 per annum. MM’s income is not that high. The result is that MM and his wife are unable to enjoy married life together.
There are several reasons why this seemed unfair (and the Supreme Court agreed). MM’s wife’s earning potential as a fluent English-speaking pharmacist cannot be considered in her application. The couple claim they will receive support from a family member to make up the amount. This too cannot be considered in her application.
The other couples
Two other couples, Mr and Mrs Majid and Mr and Mrs Javed, also claimed that the minimum income requirement prevented them from living as a family in the UK, and was unfair and discriminatory.
Is this a human rights issue?
Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) gives us the right to private and family life. The government has a legal duty to protect this right unless it is can show that it is in the public interest and proportionate to interfere with it.
The question for the Supreme Court was whether it is justifiable and non-discriminatory for the Government to demand that a spouse living in the UK has an income of at least £18,600, before their non-EEA spouse can be allowed entry into the UK?
For the individuals concerned, the case was about whether the infringement of MM’s, Abdul’s or Shaban’s right to a family life was justified and whether they will, one day, be able to live a married life in the UK.
What did the court say?
Is this Immigration Rule incompatible with the right to a family life? In short, no. While the Supreme Court acknowledged that the Immigration Rules introducing the minimum income requirement can cause hardship to many people “who have good reasons for wanting to make their lives together in [the UK]”, the Justices found that this hardship alone does not necessarily mean incompatibility with human rights.
What the court did note, however, was that further guidance is needed, particularly when the right to a family life is a factor. People reviewing the cases must make decisions that are consistent with their duties under the right to a family life. The suggested “broader approach” would include taking alternative sources of income into consideration, which would have helped people like MM and his wife and considering applications where children were involved differently.
This means the minimum income requirement is here to stay, however, it has paved the way for new appeals to take place on the grounds of how the income is assessed, and when children are involved.
For more information on these issues, read these RightsInfo posts in plain English:
- Read our explainer on what a refugee is and how they are protected?
- Catch up on when the Government withdrew a 500% hike in immigration and asylum appeal fees
- Read the news of the UK violating the Right To Liberty of a woman with mental health issues in immigration detention
- Check out our case card on Refugees’ right to reunite with their families