UK settlement visas delayed

 A number of Thai women with young children are grieving that their applications to join their husbands long-term in UK are still in limbo after a British Supreme Court judgment earlier this year.  The ruling upheld the 18,600 pounds minimum income threshold for UK sponsors with partners from outside the European Union (plus Norway and one or two other European countries which are part of the so-called Single Market).  The income threshold rises to 22,400 pounds if one child is involved rising to 27,200 pounds for three under-agers.

The Supreme Court did recognize that the rule is causing serious hardship to thousands of couples who are unable to  meet the figure.  About 40 percent of British workers earn less than 18,600 pounds a year.  In the wake of the ruling, the London-based Home Office appears to have put on hold applications involving a foreign partner and dependent child whilst it considers the latter’s best interests.

Although there are no published figures, it seems that dozens of Thai women are caught up in the new delay.  One Pattaya resident using the name Oy, who asked not to be identified as her application is still pending after six months, said “I married my British husband four years ago and we have a daughter aged two.  But his income is just under 22,400 pounds a year – the minimum for a Thai wife plus one child.  We have already paid fees in baht amounting to almost 2,000 pounds, but I cannot find out anything from the embassy.”

  Pattaya Today contacted VFS-Global in Bangkok which said that the “pause” was to enable the government in London to consider the implications of the judicial ruling.  However, the spokesperson said that only applications which involved children and had an income level problem were affected.  “All the others are being processed as normal,” she said.  VFS also made clear that a small number of applications are immune from the minimum income requirements.  These concerned British sponsors who were in receipt of state disablement and/or unemployment benefits.

Another Pattaya wife of a British sponsor, calling herself Noy, said “My husband has hired a lawyer who has researched the Supreme Court ruling.  It recognizes that a minimum income threshold is acceptable in principle, but the Home Office rules fail to take full account of their legal duties in respect to the children involved or to allow alternative sources of funding to be considered.”  Noy said she was one of several Thai wives she knew who were in the awkward situation of not knowing the future after more than a year of waiting.

The 18,600 pounds minimum income threshold for British citizens to bring non EU spouses to live with them in UK was introduced by Theresa May, the current prime minister, when she was home secretary in 2012 as part of her drive to reduce net migration below 100,000.  The 2017 Supreme Court ruling is a blow to campaigners who claim the rule has meant British families have faced a choice of separation or living in exile.  They have highlighted the plight of up to 15,000 British children overseas who have grown up as “Skype kids” – that is they only have the internet to keep in touch with their fathers.

A Home Office spokesperson said, “The court has endorsed the approach to setting an income level for family migration that prevents a burden to the tax payer and ensures migrant families can integrate into our communities.  The current rules remain in force but we are carefully considering what the court has said in relation to exceptional cases where the income threshold has not been met, particularly where the case involves a child.”

Meanwhile, Thai immigration authorities are hoping that the new 10-year Retirement visa will appeal to British men over 50 who are free to move here rather than to wait for their families to move to UK.  Charles Foreman, a retired civil servant, said “With the Brexit vote last year, visas to UK are going to get harder and not easier in my opinion.  I took the view that I would move to Thailand as the best way of uniting me with my Thai wife and two kids.”  He added that they could all visit the UK on tourist permits from time to time which was a much easier option than the complex settlement visa.

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