All families matter: An inquiry into family migration Contents

Chapter 2: The state of play

30.The Immigration Rules determine who is, or is not, allowed to enter and stay in the United Kingdom. In evidence to our inquiry, we were told that the Immigration Rules reflected a narrow view of what family means, resulted in inconsistencies in how families are treated within the immigration system, and were paying insufficient attention to the best interests of children.

Box 2: The Immigration Rules

1.The Immigration Rules are rules of practice and policy established by the Government, and are unamendable by Parliament. They govern decisions on the admission of non-nationals. Where the Immigration Rules provide that someone should be allowed to enter or stay in the country, the Government must follow that rule. When the Immigration Rules foresee that someone should not be granted a visa, the Government may act more generously: this is known as granting “leave outside the Rules”.

2.Two legal duties that apply to the Immigration Rules are particularly relevant in relation to family migration. First, under the Human Rights Act 1998, the Government, courts, and tribunals must comply with the right to respect for private and family life guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Second, when carrying out its immigration, asylum, or nationality functions, the Government must have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the United Kingdom under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.

An inconsistent interpretation of “family”

31.Several witnesses drew our attention to perceived inconsistencies in family migration policy.27 The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) told us that “neither ‘family’, nor ‘relative’ is defined comprehensively or cohesively across the Rules.”28 Other witnesses agreed that policy had developed without a coherent view of who should be considered a family member.29

32.Some mentioned the contrast between the commonly restrictive rules for the admission of family members and the generous family reunion rules under the Ukraine Family Scheme.30 Others pointed to the absence of routes and support for those coming from troubled countries where there is no bespoke route.31

33.Table 1 illustrates these inconsistencies. It adopts the point of view of a sponsor (first row) who wants to invite a relative to join them in the UK under the Immigration Rules (applications could also be submitted outside the rules). If the sponsor is a British citizen or permanent resident, for instance, they can sponsor the immigration of a partner or spouse and of their children under 18. Exceptionally, in very rare cases, they can sponsor wider family members. Strict requirements apply and cannot be captured in this table.

Table 1: Inconsistent eligibility rules

British citizen or permanent resident in the UK

Child refugee

Ukraine family scheme

Partner or spouse


Fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner


Children under 18 (of the sponsor or applicant)











Adult child



Other related children under 18






Partner’s grandchild



Aunt or uncle



Niece or nephew















Other family members




Source: Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules’, HC 395 (25 February 2016): [accessed 20 December 2022]This table simplifies complex rules. Exceptions may apply. For instance, child refugees might, in some rare cases, sponsor the immigration of a relative under 18 (see para 87).

34.Inconsistencies can also be found in the details of requirements. Sheona York, Solicitor and Reader in Law, Kent Law Clinic, University of Kent, for example, observed that rules for someone arriving on a work visa who would like to travel with their relatives “are both crude and overspecified, with many different categories of worker each having their own requirements as to whether family members may join them.”32 Danielle Cohen, an immigration solicitor, pointed out that “other reliable sources of income can be taken into account” when someone cannot meet the financial requirement but their departure would have “unjustifiably harsh consequences for the applicant the partner or the relevant child”. She told us: “The Home Office decided to create two evidential categories which is difficult to justify”.33

35.We heard that these inconsistencies are best explained by a tendency of the Home Office to develop new immigration schemes in response to geopolitical crises—labelled “bespokism”34—coming up with a new definition of “family” every time (see paragraph 13). Wider policy considerations may also explain some of the inconsistencies. The Home Office explained that the Ukraine Family Scheme is more generous because it is considered a temporary route providing leave for up to three years and is not a route to settlement, whereas those coming under the Afghanistan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) are granted indefinite leave to enter or remain.35 Similarly, those coming on a work visa will only be admitted if they are due to earn a relatively high salary, which explains why they are not expected to meet the financial requirement in order to come with their partner or spouse.36

36.Family migration rules and practices are inconsistent when it comes to which relatives are eligible to join a relative in the UK and to the criteria for their entry and stay.

37.There is a tendency towards creating bespoke routes to address emerging crises, but these are also inconsistent in terms of who may enter and on what terms. These distinctions are confusing and create the impression of unplanned, arbitrary, and unfair policy.

38.We recognise that strict criteria and vetting of applications is necessary in order to secure public support, not least through the verification of the nature of the relationship and by ensuring adherence to any requirements relating to access to public funds. Fair but tightly drawn criteria can help with both timely processing of claims and reduced bureaucracy, as well as public confidence in the system and reassurance regarding the number of those using the agreed routes.

39.The Government should harmonise which relatives are, or are not, eligible for entry and stay across immigration pathways and the Government should be transparent about the reasons for any differences. The Government should also aim to harmonise, so far as possible, the conditions to be met for the entry and stay of family members. The Government should update us by the end of 2023 about progress made as part of these harmonisation processes.

40.Rather than introducing new “bespoke” immigration pathways in response to particular geopolitical crises, the Government should revisit existing “mainstream” immigration pathways and ensure that these offer available and workable routes to the UK for those who need them.

An outdated understanding of family

41.Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in his speech setting out his priorities for 2023, declared that “family matters”. He said that “we live in a world today where family can and does take many forms” and added that “whatever your family looks like, it doesn’t matter as long as the common bond is love”.37

42.Family migration policies do not mirror this vision. We heard that family migration policies reflect “a narrow, atomic nuclear family of a couple and kids”.38 Reunite Families UK agrees that “the definition of family is very much restricted to a nuclear family, with just spouse and child(ren)” and Bail for Immigration Detainees told us about the “unnecessarily narrow view of what a relevant family relationship is for the purpose of deportation appeals.39 We were told that such “traditional view of a nuclear family” was outdated.40 As F. Twist, an immigration adviser, put it:

“While the traditional majority family unit in England had, for some time, been a nuclear family, there is evidence to suggest this is no longer the case. For example, there have been an increase in unmarried partners (who may or may not be able to or choose to cohabit), an increase in non-heterosexual family units, and other trends departing from the nuclear family.”41

43.Witnesses also argued that a nuclear understanding of the family contrasts with the understanding that people coming from abroad may have. We heard that “such view of family is not in line with other cultural understanding of family, for example, as held by the South Asian communities.”42 The Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London (RAMFEL), a charity which supports vulnerable migrants, concurred: “In many countries, such as Syria, broader understandings of family prevail, and often include a notion of greater duty towards or responsibility for family members, encompassing family members such as siblings and parents/grandparents.”43

44.A problem raised by several witnesses is the rule on “sole responsibility”. Where one parent of a child lives in the UK, but the other parent lives abroad, the child will usually be admitted only if the UK-based parent has “sole responsibility” for that child. An application will therefore be refused when there are shared parenting arrangements unless the parent outside the UK has “abdicated any responsibility for the child”.44 This causes separation and disadvantages blended or extended families.45 The only alternative for sole parents (or any other relative in the UK sponsoring the child) is to show there are “serious and compelling family or other considerations which make exclusion of the child undesirable”.46 A very high threshold must be met for the UK-based parent to reunite with their child under that rule.47

45.Unmarried and same-sex couples are also disadvantaged by the Immigration Rules, since obtaining a visa relies on conforming to norms of heterosexual married life.48 Unmarried couples are usually expected to have been living together in a relationship akin to a marriage or civil partnership for at least two years.49 However, some couples, including same-sex couples, are unable to live together in their country of origin because of local laws or social prejudice.50 In some limited cases, some applicants are expected simply to have been in a relationship “similar to a marriage or civil partnership” for at least two years, regardless of cohabitation—a step that ILPA advocates extending to more routes.51

46.Many witnesses pointed out the contrast between the narrow understanding of family in the Immigration Rules and the approach taken in family law.52 For instance, in care proceedings, a wide range of relatives, such as step-parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts, will be involved when arrangements for children are considered.53 Witnesses argued that a flexible definition of family was needed to reflect contemporary understanding. Amnesty International UK and Migrant Voice quoted Sir James Munby, former President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales, discussing Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR):

“ … such is the diversity of forms that the family takes in contemporary society that it is impossible to define, or even describe at anything less than almost encyclopaedic length, what is meant by ‘family life’ … In my judgment there is no single factor whose existence is crucial to the existence of family life, either in the abstract or even in the context of any particular type of family relationship.”54

47.Current family migration policies reflect an outdated understanding of family based on the nuclear family. It is more difficult for some groups such as single parents, young adults, and those in unmarried or same-sex relationships to reunite with family members.

48.The approach taken by the Immigration Rules is narrower than that taken in family law and in other policy areas.

49.Family migration policies should be updated to reflect the diversity of contemporary families. Inspiration should be taken from the approach in family law. The Home Office should give British citizens, permanent residents, and refugees the right to reunite with adult children and extended family members (siblings, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, grandchildren). Significant, long-term care relationships, such as those nurtured with stepfamilies, should be recognised.

The best interests of the child

50.It is a legal obligation that the best interests of the child are “a primary consideration” in all immigration matters that concern them (see box 3). The Home Secretary confirmed to us that the Home Office is taking this legal duty “very seriously” and that they take “the welfare of any child who comes into contact with the Home Office incredibly seriously; their well-being is of paramount importance” to them.55

51.The Supreme Court, deciding on immigration cases, found that, in actions concerning a child, while their best interests are not paramount and will not always prevail, no other consideration can be treated as inherently more significant. The right questions must be asked in an orderly manner to avoid the risk that the child’s best interests might be undervalued when other important considerations are in play. It is important to have a clear idea of the child’s circumstances and of what is in a child’s best interests before asking whether those interests are outweighed by the force of these other considerations. A child’s best interests include their interest in growing up in their country of nationality and a child should not be blamed for matters for which they are not responsible.56

52.However, witnesses told us that, in practice, the best interests of the child are not consistently considered and may only be an afterthought, where applications are seen only through the prism of the adult applicant.57 In the words of Rosalyn Akar Grams, Managing Director of Legal Practice and Children’s Rights, Coram Children’s Legal Centre , the immigration process treats children “as immigrants first and children second.”58 Coram pointed out that “the voice of the child is rarely adequately heard in immigration proceedings.”59 Samina Iqbal, Barrister-at-law, Goldsmiths Chambers, added that immigration proceedings have not yet adopted a consistent, structured mechanism to assess a child’s interests as is applied in the family courts.60

53.The result can be that the difficulties facing children are not given proper weight.61 Raquella De’Gessio of Reunite Families UK told us that a Home Office decision-maker had suggested that four British children should leave the UK, severing the relationship with their father, and move to Bangladesh with their mother and stepfather even though the mother had secured the financial support for the whole family from her UK-based brother.62 Bail for Immigration Detainees added that “families are routinely separated for the purpose of detention and deportation” and told us about the “devastating impact” this has on children.63

54.We were told that the problem was particularly acute in relation to children outside the UK, including British children living abroad with a non-British parent, as the statutory duty to view a child’s best interests as “a primary consideration” does not extend to them. We heard that, although children outside the UK should still be protected by Article 8 ECHR, their interests are less likely to be fully considered.64

55.Witnesses argued that the lack of full consideration of the best interests of the child could be felt in every aspect of the immigration process. For instance, high visa application fees may force parents to decide whether to provide for their child or to apply for a visa on their behalf (see section on “cost of applying”, starting at paragraph 120).65 ILPA also pointed out several issues relating to adopted children, surrogate children, and children cared for through other arrangements which are insufficiently accounted for.66

Box 3: The Government’s obligations to children in immigration law

1.The Government must treat the best interests of the child as “a primary consideration” in all actions that concern them. This obligation arises under Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is binding on the UK.

2.When carrying out its immigration, asylum and nationality functions, the Government must have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK. This obligation is found in section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.

3.In deciding applications, caseworkers must consider the rights of affected children, who may include children outside the UK, under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 (right to respect for family life). The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights on the interpretation of Article 8 in this context has incorporated the concept of the best interests of the child as part of the assessment of proportionality.

4.In family law, a higher standard of protection applies. A child’s welfare is to be of “paramount” importance in family law decisions with respect to the upbringing of a child (Children Act 1989, section 1).

56.Witnesses put forward a range of recommendations to ensure that the best interests of the child are embedded as “a primary consideration” in all immigration proceedings. The Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile, for instance, suggested a system of guardians or advocates for children in the asylum system, as has been trialled in Scotland.67 Rosalyn Akar Grams and ILPA also proposed child rights impact assessments in the formulation of legislation.68

57.Some of the recommendations we received were inspired by existing mechanisms in family law. The role of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), which independently represents the child’s interests and views before family courts, was praised.69 Samina Iqbal said: “One of the really good things in family practice is that there is very active management of cases [in family proceedings] from the start and all the way through, to get best-quality evidence in relation to the child and the child’s needs”.70 Safe Passage International told us that “there is consensus around the welfare checklist” of elements considered in determining a child’s best interests which was introduced by the Children Act 1989 (section 1).71 Others observed the benefits when immigration lawyers are aware of family law issues.72 Mrs Amy Hoose argued that “where the immigration system can learn from the family justice system is in approach and mannerism”, mentioning specifically the use of private hearings where judges are not wearing robes, which was less intimidating for litigants.73 The Coram Children’s Legal Centre argued that “immigration officers and Home Office decision-makers need much better training in best interests principles, and what it really involves to safeguard the welfare of a child” and suggested appointing immigration judges with experience of family law.74

58.Going one step further, Methoria recommended piloting a court for migrant children that would deal in a “holistic manner” with issues relating to unaccompanied and separated migrant children. They recommend a collaborative approach with engagement by all actors who have responsibilities towards the child: “engaging legal practitioners, guardians, social workers, and children themselves, should be a central part of the pilot court”.75

59.While it is a legal requirement that the best interests of the child are treated as a primary consideration in all immigration proceedings, the Government has not systematically integrated them into its policy and practice.

60.The consequences of this are widespread, creating gaps in provision for children and families to be reunited or achieve a secure status. We are puzzled by the contradiction between the Home Secretary taking the welfare of children “incredibly seriously” and the large number of children precluded by the Immigration Rules from growing up with one of their parents. When this affects British children, it undermines the value of their British citizenship.

61.Mechanisms should be introduced to ensure that the best interests of the child are properly and systematically identified, considered, and treated as a primary consideration, among other relevant considerations, by everyone encountering children in all immigration proceedings. This extends to the judiciary. Following best practice in family law, these mechanisms could include the systematic use in decision-making of the “welfare checklist” (Children Act 1989, section 1) and the provision of specialist representation of children before immigration tribunals.

Three common pathways

62.In addition to general evidence on the definition of a family and the best interests of the child, the Committee also received a large volume of evidence on three specific immigration pathways: the route for Adult Dependent Relatives (ADR), the route for spouses and partners, and the route for child refugees to reunite with their families.

The Adult Dependent Relative route

63.British citizens and permanent residents in the UK may want to reunite with an adult dependent relative—often an elderly parent—living abroad. A dedicated immigration pathway allows them to apply for a visa.

64.Until 2012, a British citizen or permanent resident could sponsor the immigration of their parent or grandparent over 65 if they could demonstrate that the relative was financially wholly or mainly dependent on them and that the relative could not turn to someone else to receive financial support in their country of origin. Parents and grandparents under the age of 65, together with a range of other relatives (such as uncles and aunts), were also eligible if they could demonstrate that they were living alone outside the UK in “the most exceptional compassionate circumstances”.76 Applications could be lodged in the UK as well as from abroad.

65.In 2012, a reform of that pathway led to a sustained drop in the number of visas issued (see Table 2). The rules on adult dependent relatives “aim to ensure that only those who need to be physically close to and cared for by a close relative in the UK are able to settle here”, the Home Secretary told us.77 She acknowledged this was a “high bar”, explaining that “ those most in need of care remain most likely to qualify, compared to those who simply have a preference to come and live in the UK with a relative here.”78

66.The evidence the Committee received on current, post-2012 rules highlights the tiny numbers of visas now issued under the ADR route. Sheona York described the ADR route as “almost impossibly strict” and Danielle Cohen told us that “applicants feel that it is not a Rule but rather a ban”.79

Table 2: Number of visas issued to parents or grandparents of British citizens, permanent residents in the UK, and refugees in the UK


Parents and grandparents accepted for settlement























Source: Home Office, ‘Statistical dataset, Managed migration datasets’ (24 November 2022): [accessed 25th November 2022].The table shows grants of settlement to parents and grandparents for the years 2011–2021. Other adult dependent relatives do not feature and some of the parents and grandparents may have been granted a visa that is not an ADR visa. The gradual drop in numbers after 2012 is likely to be due to successful reviews and appeals of applications made before the Rules changed.

67.Witnesses identified “extremely restrictive conditions that most people cannot fulfil” (see box 4).80 Migrants Rights Network reported that a sponsor was told by the Home Office that unless their relative is unable to walk or feed themselves, the visa will not be granted.81 The Centre for Care, University of Sheffield and BritCits echoed this, stating that the “Home Office’s own examples” foresee that an ADR visa “may only be granted to those who are effectively housebound or even confined to bed—those who are so poorly that they cannot dress, eat, cook, bathe without assistance.”82 We heard that, “in many cases, they are required to be nearly ‘all but vegetating’” to be eligible.83

Box 4: Overview of rules relating to the admission of the adult dependent relatives of citizens, permanent residents, and refugees

To be eligible for a visa under the ADR route, each of the following requirements apply:

  • The applicant must be outside the UK
  • The applicant must be the sponsor’s
    • Parent
    • Grandparent
    • Brother or sister aged 18 or over
    • Son or daughter aged 18 or over
  • The applicant must, as a result of age, illness or disability, require long-term personal care to perform everyday tasks
  • The applicant must be unable, even with the practical and financial help of the sponsor, to obtain the required level of care in the country where they are living, because:
    • it is not available and there is no person in that country who can reasonably provide it; or
    • it is not affordable.
  • There must be adequate accommodation, maintenance, and care for the applicant upon their arrival in the UK, without them having recourse to public funds.
  • Where the sponsor is a British citizen or a permanent resident in the UK, they must sign an undertaking that they will provide for the applicant’s maintenance, accommodation, and care for a period of 5 years from entry, and confirming that the applicant will not have recourse to public funds.

Source: Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules’, HC 395 and Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules Appendix FM: family members’ (25 February 2016): [accessed 20 December 2022]

68.We were told that the requirement to demonstrate that care is unavailable in the country of origin was particularly problematic. We heard that it was incompatible with the expectation that sponsors can support and accommodate the applicant in the UK: if they can afford that, they probably can also afford to pay for care for the applicant in the country of origin, which makes the relative ineligible for an ADR visa.84 We heard in addition that while care may nominally be available in the country of origin, there may be difficulties in securing high-quality care in a country where the sector is poorly regulated. 85 A witness told us that, in their country of origin, poor standards and even abuse are commonplace unless there is day-to-day supervision.86 Danielle Cohen said that, too often, caseworkers “do not refer to the care conditions in the country of origin” when deciding on applications.87

69.We heard of a range of other problems associated with ADR applications. For instance, applications must be made from the country of origin of the adult dependent applicant, involve navigating complex online forms, and require the applicant to be capable (counter-intuitively to the conditions to be met) of travelling.88

70.These strict requirements were introduced with the intention to take into account “the costs that bringing over an elderly relative may impose on our National Health Service” and were based on Government estimates, shared with us by the Home Secretary, that “a person living to the age of 85 costs the NHS on average around £150,000 in their lifetime, with more than 50% of that cost arising from the age of 65 onwards, and that does not take into account any of the social care costs met by local authorities.”89 We heard from other witnesses that this assessment failed to take into account the contributions of immigrants to the NHS and the costs to the NHS of healthcare professionals leaving the country because they cannot sponsor the immigration of their parents (we discuss these impacts at length in the section on “impact on the NHS”, starting at paragraph 184).

71.Witnesses also told us that this rationale fails to recognise the value that adult dependent relatives bring to families. As well as the benefits for sponsors, witnesses pointed to the documented positive impact on children of the presence of grandparents and argued that the Immigration Rules disadvantage children whose parents are of migrant origin.90 Witnesses criticised the emphasis on the potential costs of admitting dependent relatives, which some claimed had been overstated, particularly when set against the damage caused by the Rules and the benefits to families of being reunited.91

72.We received a range of first-hand testimonies of families affected by the inability to sponsor the immigration of an adult dependent relative.92 Dr Sohail, who works in the NHS, told us “almost everything can be replaced when one moves to the UK, except family”, adding that “amongst family members, the most important ones are your set of parents who have put in thousands of pounds … to raise you.”93 One anonymous witness felt “guilty of leaving them and coming to the UK” and another anonymous witness added that “the love and affection from grandma and grandpa cannot be replaced.”94 We also heard that the impact of “the financial and emotional costs … is immeasurable.”95

73.Witnesses also told us that there exist “alternative methods of avoiding any burden on the NHS and on local authorities” that would not amount to an effective ban on the immigration of adult dependent relatives.96 We heard that such methods could include an extension of the Immigration Health Surcharge, the expectation that applicants are covered by some private medical insurance, quotas, or a bond.97 Professor Macklin from the University of Toronto told us that, in Canada, the sponsor is asked to commit to supporting their relatives: “as part of the sponsorship agreement … a sponsor gives an undertaking to the Government that they will, in effect, provide financial settlement support to the family member being sponsored, for varying periods from three to 10 years”. She confirmed that these undertakings could be enforced as a debt.98

74.The immigration pathway for adult dependent relatives is essentially closed. The absence of a pathway impoverishes society and damages family life. It places enormous stress on potential sponsors.

75.The ADR route should be reformed to allow families to reunite in the UK. The threshold for dependency should be reduced and the range of eligible relatives extended within tight definitions to secure ongoing public confidence and support. Instead of focussing on the availability of care in other countries, the ADR route should concentrate on the ability of the sponsor to care for their dependent relative. Where the dependent relative cannot be cared for by their family abroad, applications should normally be granted.

The route for spouses and partners

76.Applicants wanting to enter as the spouse or partner of a British citizen or resident must meet a range of conditions including as to good character, ability to speak English and suitable accommodation.99 The majority of evidence we received concerned the financial requirements, often referred to as the “minimum income requirement”, which has been in place since 2012 and has since remained controversial.100

77.We heard that this presents a barrier for a substantial number of people. In 2015, a report for the Children’s Commissioner for England estimated that up to 15,000 children had been separated from a parent by the financial requirement and reported serious psychological impacts on children as well as parents, a finding confirmed in later research led by University of Bristol.101

Box 5: The financial requirement from 2012 to date

1.In 2011, the Government asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) “What should the minimum income threshold be for sponsoring
spouses/partners and dependants in order to ensure that the sponsor can support his/her spouse or civil or other partner and any dependants independently without them becoming a burden on the State.”

2.The Government’s intentions were to “promote integration and community cohesion” and “reduce burdens on the taxpayers and on public services”. “A consequential reduction in net migration would be a welcome additional benefit”, the Impact Assessment associated with the 2012 reform stated.102

3.The MAC identified a range of possible answers from £13,400 to £40,000 per year. Its preferred option was £18,600 as the point at which a couple would normally not be entitled to receive any income-related benefits.103

4.Taking the MAC’s advice, the Government set the financial requirement at £18,600 per annum, plus £3,800 per annum for a couple with one child and a further £2,400 for each additional child. The financial requirement can be met by earning the required amount for at least six successive months. Income earned abroad rarely counts. It can also be met through other means, such as through savings equivalent to £16,000 plus 2.5 times the shortfall.104

5.In its 2020 annual report, the MAC regretted that “previous analysis may have given too much weight to the fiscal contribution of such migrants and insufficient attention to the benefits that accrue, to both the family and society, from the route.”105

6.When it was implemented, 47% of the adult population in the UK could not meet the £18,600 threshold, with much higher percentages for women, those outside London and south-east England, some BAME groups, the young and the retired.106 Ten years later, the uneven impact remains the same although the financial requirement to sponsor a partner (without children) is now just above the national living wage of a full-time worker over 23, currently £9.50 an hour—and will be below it when this rises £10.42 an hour in April 2023.

78.The 2015 report by the Children’s Commissioner also found that, relative to earnings, the UK financial requirement was the highest in the world.107 The Netherlands requires a “sustainable” income equivalent to 100% of the minimum wage but there is some flexibility.108 We heard that Canada does not have a minimum income requirement for the admission of spouses or partners and children.109 Norway, where the average wage is higher than in the UK, has, in absolute terms only, a higher income requirement of around £24,000 per year (though the amount fluctuates from time to time reflecting the current social welfare scheme).110

79.The financial requirement has an uneven impact due to varied earning levels according to area. The Scottish Government told the Committee that, in 2021, “29% of UK citizens living in Scotland are ineligible to sponsor a spouse to come to the UK” and 46.2% could not sponsor a spouse and two children.111 Other witnesses told us that women, some ethnic minorities, and residents of lower-income regions were more likely to be ineligible.112 Danielle Cohen told us that while alternative resources are occasionally recognised by the Home Office, an applicant granted entry clearance or leave to remain on this route is “punished by having to wait twice as long for settlement by entering a 10-year route to settlement as opposed to the five years route to settlement”.113

80.Besides the financial threshold itself, we received extensive evidence on what is required to demonstrate that the threshold is met. The evidential requirements were described as “overly strict, inflexible and very onerous” with applications “refused for very technical reasons without providing an opportunity … to correct any deficiencies or oversights”.114 Witnesses called for evidential requirements to be simplified and made more flexible both generally and in respect of certain groups.115 There was specific criticism of the narrow range of resources that are routinely considered, notably the exclusion of the applicant’s earnings outside the UK and of support from third parties except in rare cases.116 If a sponsor living outside the UK wants to return to the UK with their family, the sponsor must at the time of the application meet the financial requirement regardless of local wage levels and must also have a job offer that would allow them to meet the financial requirement in the UK. In practice, many sponsors must return to the UK to find a job that meets the minimum income requirement and wait six months to apply, with subsequent delay while the application is processed.117

81.Professor Alan Manning, Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science and former Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, saw the financial requirement as poorly conceived: the “earnings of one person in the past six months may well be a very poor guide to future earnings of the whole household”. A sponsor could meet the financial requirement by mortgaging their house without increasing their net wealth. He concluded that the financial requirement could have “drastic consequences” for some while not achieving its objectives overall and that, given its interference with family life, “its abolition should be seriously considered”.118

82.In practice, witnesses told us that the need to reorganise their lives around meeting the financial requirement led to social isolation (see section on “the experience of separated families”, starting at paragraph 14). Saving for visa fees, maintaining a transnational relationship, and the postponement of work or study plans to meet the financial requirement could have a long-term impact on earning capacity.119 Witnesses described strain on family life due to stress, juggling jobs, and separation.120 The need to continue meeting the financial requirement through the probationary period of five or ten years can exacerbate gender or other inequalities within the family unit, with an impact on power relations within the family unit, creating risks for abuse.121 We also received extensive evidence on the societal impacts of the financial requirement, which we discuss in chapter 4.

83.We did not receive any evidence suggesting that the financial requirement is achieving its aims. It does not promote social cohesion, nor does it protect public finances. It achieves the opposite. We recognise that, to foster social cohesion, families need sufficient resources, set at around benefits level.

84.The Migration Advisory Committee regrets that the 2012 reform placed too great an emphasis on economic and fiscal considerations. We share their concern.

85.The financial requirement should be revisited to be more flexible and to focus on the likelihood of future income of the family unit rather than on the sponsor’s past income. The threshold should not increase.

Family reunion for child refugees

86.Every year, hundreds of unaccompanied children are recognised as refugees or receive humanitarian protection in the UK. By definition, child refugees cannot return to their country of origin and it is likely that their long-term future lies in the UK.

87.However, child refugees cannot normally sponsor any relatives to join them in the UK, not even parents. While the Immigration Rules were amended in May 2022 in ways that might allow, in some rare cases, a child refugee to sponsor the immigration of a relative under 18, we received no evidence suggesting that any child refugee was able, in practice, to benefit from this provision.122 Applications for admission may be made outside the Immigration Rules, but witnesses said that they are rarely successful, and that the lack of an identifiable route within the Rules and the absence of adequate legal advice and information means that children may not be aware that an application is even possible.123

Table 3: Grants of refugee status to children


Grants of recognition of refugee status or humanitarian protection to children









Source: Data derived from Asylum statistics: Home Office, ‘Asylum and resettlement datasets’: [accessed 27 November 2022] and Refugee Council, Children in the Asylum System (May 2019): [accessed 27 November 2022].

88.Child refugees trying to reunite with relatives find it difficult to focus on building a new life in the UK whilst living with the grief of separation and survivor guilt, the Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile told us.124 They may work long hours to the detriment of their education in order to send funds overseas and will be vulnerable to complex post-traumatic stress disorder and developmental difficulties. The difficulties of the family reunion process may re-trigger symptoms and lead to a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence as they struggle to navigate the system.125 Psychiatric assessments commissioned by the Migrants’ Law Project at the Islington Law Centre often reveal family separation to be the main perpetuating factor for mental ill-health126 and these difficulties were described as “one of the biggest barriers to integration”.127

89.Being joined in the UK by a relative or joining a sibling, when it happens, greatly benefits child refugees. The Migrants’ Law Project cited research that “in the case of children/young people, physical touch/affection from family members has been shown to have strong developmental benefits.”128 The Families Together Coalition agrees that for the small number affected being able to reunite with a relative would be “absolutely transformational” for child refugees.129 We heard it first-hand from a child refugee, who told us that:

“Family reunion saved my life. When my siblings arrived here, I was happy. I just felt that I got my life back, because I was stressing a lot.”130

90.The Families Together Coalition told us that the UK was “an outlier in Europe” because, with Switzerland, it was the only country not to make any provisions for child refugees to sponsor their families.131 Until recently, children could join relatives in the UK or elsewhere in the EU for their respective asylum claims to be heard together. This arrangement, which derived from the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, no longer exists.132 This has had an effect not only on child refugees in the UK but on those attempting to join them. Safe Passage International told us that, in 2021, “more than half of the unaccompanied children [they] worked with lost faith in the legal process and travelled to the UK irregularly, instead of pursuing an application under UK’s Immigration Rules”.133

91.We were told that the Government was concerned that creating a specific route for child refugees to sponsor their families would incentivise parents to send their children on a dangerous journey.134 However, our witnesses told us there is no evidence that this is the case. In Norway, where one such immigration pathway exists, just 12% of unaccompanied minors successfully sponsored family members between 1990 and 2015.135 Family reunion policies do not have a significant influence on where children claim asylum, and most children do not have a fully formed plan when they leave their country of origin. Parents send children abroad in desperation as a last resort or the family travels together and is separated enroute.136

92.The Families Together Coalition reported that the EU attempted to assess the impact of allowing children to sponsor family members and found limited evidence of children being sent ahead of parents, and this only during the peak of the 2015–17 refugee crisis.137 An inquiry by the Lords European Union Committee on unaccompanied migrant children in the EU in 2016 also found no evidence that allowing children to sponsor family members would result in them being sent ahead unaccompanied.138

93.The Immigration Rules almost never allow child refugees to sponsor the immigration of their family members. This is harmful to children, disrespects their best interests, and encourages further dangerous journeys. There is no evidence that providing such a right would encourage families to send children on unaccompanied journeys.

94.Recent reports of large numbers of children going missing from Home Office accommodation are a vivid example of Home Office failures. These children are vulnerable, and particularly so as they have not been able to be accompanied by an adult relative.

95.We endorse the conclusions and recommendations of the 2016 report of the Lords European Union Committee, Children in Crisis:

“We found no evidence to support the Government’s argument that the prospect of family reunification could encourage families to send children into Europe unaccompanied in order to act as an ‘anchor’ for other family members. If this were so, we would expect to see evidence of this happening in Member States that participate in the Family Reunification Directive. Instead, the evidence shows that some children are reluctant to seek family reunification, for fear that it may place family members in danger.”

“We recommend that the UK Government reconsider its restrictive position on family reunification. Legal aid should be available to unaccompanied migrant children for the purposes of proceedings for family reunification.”139

96.The right to family reunion for child refugees should be extended and brought within the Immigration Rules to create an effective path to family reunion for child refugees. They should be able to be joined by at least their parents and siblings.

27 See, for instance, written evidence from the Migrants’ Law Project (FAM0038), The Centre for Care, University of Sheffield and BritCits (FAM0041) and Migration Yorkshire (FAM0097).

28 Written evidence from the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101)

29 Q 48 (Barry O’Leary)

30 For example, written evidence from Reunite Families UK (FAM0035), The Migrants’ Law Project (FAM0038), RAMFEL (FAM0039), Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101).

31 Anonymous written evidence (FAM0002) and (FAM0040)

32 Written evidence from Sheona York (FAM0017)

33 Written evidence from Danielle Cohen (FAM0034). See also written evidence from the Home Office (FAM0103).

34 Written evidence from the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101)

35 Written evidence from the Home Office (FAM0103)

36 Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules Appendix Skilled Worker’, HC 395 (25 February 2016), para SW 42: [accessed 8 December 2022]

37 Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Speech on building a better future, 4 January 2023: [accessed 19 January 2023]

38 Written evidence from Marcus Lin (FAM0020)

39 Written evidence from Reunite Families UK (FAM0035) and from Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) (FAM0048)

40 Written evidence from F. Twist (FAM0043)

41 Ibid.

42 Written evidence from Reunite Families UK (FAM0035)

43 Written evidence from RAMFEL (FAM0039)

44 Written evidence from Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101)

45 Written evidence from Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101), 48 (Barry O’Leary) and Q 1 (Rosalyn Akar Grams)

46 Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules part 8: family members’, HC 395 (25 February 2016),
paras 298(d) and 319X: [accessed 8 December 2022]

47 Written evidence from Migrants’ Law Project (FAM0038), Safe Passage International (FAM0082), Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101) and Kent Law Clinic, University of Kent (FAM0030)

48 Written evidence from SOGICA Project (FAM0022), Amy Hoose (FAM0010), F. Twist (FAM0043) and Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101)

49 For instance, Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules Appendix FM: family members’, HC 395
(25 February 2016), para GEN 1.2: [accessed 8 December 2022]. Also Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules Appendix Relationship with partner’, para RWP 5.1: [accessed 8 December 2022]

50 Written evidence from Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101), Migrant Centre NI (FAM0028) and SOGICA Project (FAM0022). See also Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules Appendix Relationship with partner’, para RWP 5: [accessed 8 December 2022].

51 Written evidence from SOGICA Project (FAM0022), Amy Hoose (FAM0010), F. Twist (FAM0043), Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101)

52 See, for instance, written evidence from Migrant Centre NI (FAM0028), Reunite Families UK (FAM0035), RAMFEL (FAM0039), F. Twist (FAM0043), Families For Justice (FAM0049), Danielle Cohen (FAM0034), Anglia Ruskin University (FAM0051), Coram Children’s Legal Centre (FAM0078), UNHCR (FAM0083), The Centre for Care, University of Sheffield and BritCits (FAM0041).

53 Q 48 (Samina Iqbal)

54 Written evidence from Amnesty International UK and Migrant Voice (FAM0018), quoting Royal Courts of Justice, Singh v Entry Clearance Officer 2004 EWCA Civ 1075 [72].

55 Oral evidence taken on 21 December 2022 (Session 2022–23), Q 6 (The Rt Hon Suella Braverman KC MP, Home Secretary)

56 The Supreme Court, Zoumbas v Secretary of State for the Home Department, UKSC 74 (2011) and The Supreme Court, ZH (Tanzania) (FC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department, UKSC 4 (2013)

57 3 (Rosalyn Akar Grams). See also written evidence from F. Twist (FAM0043), Families For Justice (FAM0049) and Coram Children’s Legal Centre (FAM0078), citing Independent Chief Inspector of Border and Immigration, An inspection of how the Home Office considers the ‘best interests’ of unaccompanied asylum seeking children (August-December 2017): [accessed 20 December 2020]. See also written evidence from the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101).

58 Q 6 (Rosalyn Akar Grams)

59 Written evidence from Coram Children’s Legal Centre (FAM0078)

60 Q 49 (Samina Iqbal)

61 Q 49 (Barry O’Leary)

62 Q 5 (Raquella De’Gessio)

63 Written evidence from Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) (FAM0048)

64 Q 7 (Rosalyn Akar Grams) and written evidence from Kent Law Clinic, University of Kent (FAM0030), Professor Katharine Charsley (FAM0029) and The Migrants’ Law Project (FAM0038)

65 See, for instance, written evidence from the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101)

66 Ibid.

67 Written evidence from Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile (FAM0102)

68 Q 3 (Rosalyn Akar Grams) and written evidence from the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101)

69 Q 53 (Barry O’Leary, Sarah Pinder) and written evidence from Marcus Lin (FAM0020)

70 Q 52 (Samina Iqbal). See also written evidence from the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101)

71 Written evidence from Safe Passage International (FAM0082), see also Children Act 1989 section 1.

72 Q 52 (Barry O’Leary), Q 55 (Barry O’Leary, Sarah Pinder) and written evidence from KIND UK (FAM0032)

73 Written evidence from Amy Hoose (FAM0010)

74 Written evidence from Coram Children’s Legal Centre (FAM0078)

75 Written evidence from Methoria (FAM0046), see also QQ 30 and 33 (Carole Littlechild)nd

76 Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules’, HC 395 (25 February 2016), para 317: [accessed 8 December 2022], prior to Home Office, Statement of Changes in the Immigration Rules (13 June 2012): [accessed 3 February 2023]

77 Oral evidence taken on 21 December 2022 (Session 2022–23), Q 8 (The Rt Hon Suella Braverman KC MP, Home Secretary)

78 Ibid.

79 Written evidence from Sheona York (FAM0017) and Danielle Cohen (FAM0034).

80 Written evidence from Marcus Lin (FAM0020)

81 Written evidence from Migrants’ Rights Network (FAM0037)

82 Written evidence from The Centre for Care, University of Sheffield and BritCits (FAM0041)

83 Written evidence from Marcus Lin (FAM0020)

84 Ibid.

85 Anonymous written evidence (FAM0040)

86 Anonymous written evidence (FAM0064)

87 Written evidence from Danielle Cohen (FAM0034)

88 Anonymous written evidence (FAM0040)

89 Oral Evidence taken on 21 December 2022 (Session 2022–23), Q 8 (The Rt Hon Suella Braverman KC MP, Home Secretary).

90 Written evidence from British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) (FAM0026) and Hindu Forum Britain (FAM0079)

91 Written evidence from British Medical Association (FAM0081), Danielle Cohen (FAM0034) and British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) (FAM0026)

92 See, for instance, anonymous written evidence (FAM0055), (FAM0057), (FAM0058) and (FAM0064). Also see written evidence from Dr S V Nagaraja (FAM0089) and anonymous written evidence (FAM0096).

93 Written evidence from Dr Sohail (FAM0053)

94 Anonymous written evidence (FAM0054) and (FAM0065)

95 Anonymous written evidence (FAM0012)

96 Written evidence from the British Medical Association (FAM0081)

97 Written evidence from British Association of Physicians of Indian origin (BAPIO) (FAM0026) and British Medical Association (FAM0081)

98 Q 38 (Professor Audrey Macklin)

99 Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules’, Appendix FM, HC 395 (25 February 2016): [accessed 14 December 2022]

100 All-Party Parliamentary Group, Report of the inquiry into new family migration rules (June 2013): [accessed 7 December 2022], Children’s Commissioner, Family Friendly? The impact on children of the Family Migration Rules: A review of the financial requirements (August 2015): [accessed 19 December 2022] and Members of Reunite Families UK with Katharine Charsley, Rissa Mohabir, Caroline Coombs, Paige Ballmi, Emma Agusita and Helena Wray, Kept Apart. Couples and families separated by the UK Immigration System (2020): [accessed 19 December 2022]

101 Children’s Commissioner, Skype Families: the effects on children of being separated from a mum or dad because of recent Immigration Rules and Members of Reunite Families UK, Kept Apart—Couples and families separated by the UK Immigration System (2020): [accessed 19 December 2022]

102 See Home Office, Impact Assessment (IA) (12 June 2012): [accessed 29 November 2022]

103 Migration Advisory Committee, Review of the minimum income requirement for sponsorship under the family migration route (November 2011), p 72: [accessed 7 December 2022]

104 For more information, see Home Office, Family Migration: Appendix FM Section 1.7 Appendix Armed Forces. Financial requirement (7 December 2021), p 44: [accessed 7 December 2022]

105 Migration Advisory Committee, Annual Report (December 2020): [accessed 7 December 2022]

106 See, for instance, written evidence from Dr Victoria Redclift (FAM0021) and Migrant Centre NI (FAM0028).

108 Q 38 (Dr Saskia Bonjour) and written evidence from Dr Saskia Bonjour and Susan Diepenmaat (FAM0009)

109 Q 38 (Professor Audrey Macklin)

110 Written evidence from Dr Helga Eggebø (FAM0014)

111 Written evidence from the Scottish Government (FAM0015)

112 Written evidence from Professor Katharine Charsley (FAM0029) and Dr Victoria Redclift (FAM0021)

113 Written evidence from Danielle Cohen (FAM0034)

114 Written evidence from Samina Iqbal and Sarah Pinder (FAM0085). See also written evidence from the Centre for Care, University of Sheffield and BritCits (FAM0041) and Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101).

115 Written evidence from the Centre for Care, University of Sheffield and BritCits (FAM0041), Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101) and Anglia Ruskin University (FAM0051)

116 See, for instance, Q 5 (Raquella De’Gessio) and written evidence from Amnesty International UK and Migrant voice (FAM0018).

117 Written evidence from Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101) and Professor Katharine Charsley (FAM0029)

118 Written evidence from Professor Alan Manning (FAM0050)

119 QQ 12–13 (Raquella De’Gessio), Professor Katharine Charsley (FAM0029), NRPF Network (FAM0047), Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (FAM0101), Amnesty International and Migrant Voice (FAM0018), Reunite Families UK (FAM0035)

120 Q13 (Raquella De’Gessio) and written evidence from Amnesty International and Migrant Voice (FAM0018) and Professor Katharine Charsley (FAM0029).

121 Written evidence from Professor Katharine Charsley (FAM0029) and Reunite Families UK (FAM0035)

122 Home Office, ‘Immigration Rules Appendix FM: family members’ (30 January 2023): [accessed 9 February 2023]

123 Q24 (Jacqueline Broadhead), see also written evidence from the Migrants’ Law Project (FAM0038).

124 Written evidence from Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile (FAM0102)

125 Written evidence from Baobab Centre for Young Survivors in Exile (FAM0102). See also written evidence from UNHCR (FAM0083), Barnardo’s (FAM0099), Families Together Coalition (FAM0033), The Migrants’ Law Project (FAM0038), RAMFEL (FAM0039) and Safe Passage International (FAM0082).

126 Written evidence from the Migrants’ Law Project (FAM0038)

127 Written evidence from Barnardo’s (FAM0099)

128 Written evidence from The Migrants’ Law Project (FAM0038) citing D Narvaez et al, National Library of Medicine, The importance of early life touch for psychosocial and moral development (2 August 2019): [accessed 14 December 2022]

129 Written evidence from the Families Together Coalition (FAM0033)

130 Q 75 (Witness 1)

131 Written evidence from Families Together Coalition (FAM0033). This statement does not take into account the recent change to the Immigration Rules that allows, in some rare cases, a child refugee to sponsor the immigration of a relative under 18 (see paragraph 87).

132 Written evidence from Barnardo’s (FAM0099) and Safe Passage International (FAM0082)

133 Written evidence from Safe Passage International (FAM0082) and Migrants’ Law Project (FAM0038)

134 Written evidence from Families Together Coalition (FAM0033)

135 Ibid.

136 Written evidence from Families Together Coalition (FAM0033), Safe Passage International (FAM0082) and UNHCR (FAM0083)

137 Written evidence from Families Together Coalition (FAM0033)

138 European Union Committee, Children in Crisis: unaccompanied migrant children in the EU (2nd Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 34)

139 Ibid.

© Parliamentary copyright 2023