The Government streses the importance of family life, but families are failed by the Home Office’s migration policies and practice, which also undermine society, according to the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee.
In its report ‘All families matter: An inquiry into family migration’, published today, the committee says that current migration rules are at odds with the Government’s commitment to family life. Overly restrictive and complex, they force family members to live apart. The Home Office sees separation as a matter of choice and regards online contact as adequate. The committee profoundly disagrees.
The arrival of spouses and partners of British citizens is deterred or delayed by overly complex rules and financial requirements. Parents are forced to bring up children alone, until they can be joined by their foreign partners. Children grow up without a parent.
Families are effectively banned from being joined in the UK by elderly parents from overseas for whom they are desperate to care.
Child refugees cannot be joined by any relatives. When questioned by the committee, the Home Secretary defended the policy.
The restrictive rules affect British citizens, refugees and permanent residents, including children born in the UK and adult citizens who have never lived in another country, but have family members of a different nationality.
Family migration rules now apply in circumstances where, before Brexit, there was free movement. Many European citizens and their families, and British citizens with European relatives, are now affected.
The Home Office is systematically deficient in its processing of family visa applications. Delays pile up, communication is appallingly poor, evidential requirements for how you prove your case are excessively complex and fees are prohibitive. People are left distraught.
Modern families are often extended or blended, for instance including stepparents. It should be recognised that they do not always follow the nuclear model.
The Prime Minister has recently said that ‘strong, supportive families make for stable communities’. Failing families means failing society too. Essential skills are lost when people feel they have no alternative but to leave the UK, and some people may not come in the first place. The committee heard that health services are particularly affected.
An individual’s contribution to the economy is weakened when a partner or parent is not allowed into the country to help raise children. In extreme cases, migration policies force families into destitution, making them reliant on the state. The Home Secretary told the committee that the policies strike the right balance between respecting family life and protecting societal interests. The committee recognises that strict criteria and vetting of applications is necessary; public support demands it. It believes, however, that policies that respect family life also benefit society.
A child’s best interests, which generally mean being with family, should be at the heart of family migration policies, in the committee’s view. It found that there is much to be learnt from family law when it comes to protecting children in immigration matters.
The committee concluded that humanity and decency should be at the heart of rights-based family migration policies, and that there is considerable scope for the Home Office to simplify complex rules and improve its standards for processing applications. The interests of both families and society would be served by this.
Baroness Hamwee, Chair of the House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs Committee, said:
“Nobody should have to choose between home, safety, and family. The primary concern of family migration policies should be to allow families to live together in the UK where possible and the Home Office should ensure safe and legal routes for family reunion.
“The interests of families and society are not in competition: they go hand-in-hand. Family migration policies should ensure that they are sufficiently protective of family life.
“These restrictive rules and deficiencies affect British citizens, refugees, and permanent residents alike. As one witness told us: “I feel that, although I am a British citizen, I have no rights”.
“We believe that it is in the best interests of a child living in this country to be surrounded by their family and to remain here. The scandal around the children placed in asylum hotels and going missing from them points up the importance of looking at immigration from the child’s point of view.
“Current policies are extreme. It is virtually impossible to be joined by an elderly parent who needs care. No visa was issued to anyone in that situation in 2021. Tight but fair immigration rules should allow families to live together.
“The minimum income requirement, which those trying to be joined by a partner must meet, is fundamentally flawed. It should be made more flexible and should not increase.
“Home Office processes must improve considerably, and standards of service substantially raised, without applicants left in the dark as to what is happening.
“The Government should significantly increase funding to improve the standards of the services the Home Office delivers to families. Recruiting and training caseworkers is an essential yet insufficient starting point.”