A controversial income threshold, which serves as a barrier preventing people from bringing their foreign-born spouses to the UK, is under review by the Supreme Court. It is now up to the court to rule on whether or not this financial obstacle is legally tenable.
The barrier affects couples where one partner is a UK national and the other originates from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). A minimum income threshold must be met before the UK partner can bring their foreign spouse into the country. Unless they qualify on other grounds, the foreign partner can only come to the UK if they are married to a British citizen who earns at least £18,600 a year, a figure which has been in effect since 2012. If there is a child involved and that child does not hold British citizenship, the threshold is increased to a minimum of £22,400. For any additional children, a further £2,400 per child is added to the minimum income required.
There have been a number of criticisms levelled against this rule. Campaigners claim that it unfairly prevents thousands of couples from living together and having a normal family life, and has separated around 15,000 children from their parents. Critics also say that it is a law that unfairly targets poorer people by making the right to bring the person they love and have married to the UK a privilege reserved for people who earn a certain amount of money. The fact that some kinds of income are also excluded from the calculation has also attracted controversy, with some couples who do meet the income threshold still being unable to live together in the UK.
The rule was brought in by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government that preceded the current, Conservative government. At the time of the threshold’s introduction, the government claimed that it was to prevent foreign-born spouses of British people from becoming dependant on UK taxpayer money. Before the introduction of a firm minimum income threshold, there was a vaguer requirement that the couple demonstrate they would be able to reasonably support themselves.
Yet further criticism has stemmed from the fact that the threshold takes into account only the UK-born partner’s earnings. While the rules are ostensibly to prevent foreign nationals from becoming a drain on UK resources after marrying British nationals, the right to settle will be refused to high-qualified individuals who already earn well above the minimum themselves if their UK partner’s income does not meet the threshold in isolation.
A challenge against these rules was initially upheld at the High Court, which described the system as “onerous and unjustified” in a 2013 ruling. However, this decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal, leading the matter to come to the Supreme Court which is now set to make a final decision.