All families matter: An inquiry into family migration Contents


Current migration policies are at odds with the Government’s commitment to family life. “Strong, supportive families make for more stable communities”, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a speech setting out his priorities for 2023. By being overly restrictive, family migration policies weaken families and undermine communities.

Ten years after a major set of reforms, we assessed family migration policies. We found that, complex and inconsistent, they fail both families and society.

Families are failed. The desire to join family members is natural and understandable, but the Immigration Rules force families to live apart. The Home Office portrays family separation as a choice on the part of the family—we profoundly disagree that it is a matter of choice.

The arrival of spouses and partners of British citizens is deterred or delayed by the financial requirement and prohibitive application fees. Sufficient income may never be secured. Parents are forced to raise children alone, until they can be joined by their foreign partners. Children grow up without one of their parents.

Current rules are so harsh that they effectively ban families from being joined in the UK by adult relatives from overseas for whom they are desperate to care—often an elderly parent. The rules, which were designed to reduce the workload of the NHS, overlook the contribution of dependent relatives to their families and society. The Government’s approach is unjustified and needlessly restrictive.

Child refugees cannot be joined by any relatives, adding to their trauma. When queried, the Home Secretary defended this policy and showed no intention to better protect these vulnerable children.

The Home Office is systematically deficient in its processing of family visa applications. Delays pile up, communication is appallingly poor, evidential requirements are excessively complex, and fees prohibitive. Applicants are left distraught.

These restrictive rules and deficiencies affect British citizens, refugees, and permanent residents—including children born in the UK and adult citizens who have never lived in another country, but whose relatives may have a different nationality. The impact on them is immeasurable. As one witness told us: “I feel that, although I am a British citizen, I have no rights”.

Failing families means failing society. The contribution to the economy of some people is weakened when neither their partner nor their own parents are allowed into the country to help raise children. In extreme cases, family migration policies force some families into destitution, making them reliant on the social services of local authorities.

Essential skills are lost to the UK when people feel they have no alternative but to leave. Health services are particularly affected. We heard how family migration policies aggravate the protracted staffing crisis in the NHS. Doctors and nurses, confronted with the impossibility of bringing their elderly parents to care for them in the UK, decide to leave the country. Some people may be deterred from coming in the first place. Designed to protect taxpayers’ money, family migration policies have, in fact, almost no impact on the public purse.

Since the UK left the EU, these policies have an even greater impact than was originally intended. Family migration rules now apply to those who previously benefitted from free movement provisions. This includes not only many European citizens and their families, but also British citizens with European relatives. More families are separated and are prevented from contributing to society.

The Home Secretary told us that family migration policies were about striking the right balance between respecting family life and protecting societal interests. We recognise that strict criteria and vetting of applications is necessary in order to secure public support.

We believe, however, that policies that respect family life also benefit society. The interests of families and society are not in competition: they go hand-in-hand.

“Family runs right through our vision of a better future”, the Prime Minister said. We agree and accordingly set out our recommendations which are consistent with the aim of nurturing family life and unleashing the potential of families to contribute to society.

Nobody should have to choose between home and family. The primary concern of family migration policies should be to allow families to live together in the UK where possible. The rules should reflect that family life often goes beyond the nuclear family.

The financial requirement for spouses and partners should be made more flexible and should focus on the likelihood of future income of the family unit rather than on one individual’s past income. Adult dependent relatives should be allowed to be cared for in the UK, within fair but tight definitions to secure ongoing public confidence.

The best interests of the child should be at the heart of family migration decisions. Mechanisms, inspired by best practices in family law, should be introduced to protect children in all immigration matters. 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 voice of the child must be heard.

Family migration rules should be simplified. The process for bringing family members to the UK should be straightforward, affordable, transparent, and fair, with the rules applied as consistently as possible across different pathways. Home Office processes must improve considerably.

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.

Humanity and decency should be at the heart of rights-based family migration policies. Action should be taken immediately to achieve this.

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