CCLC concerns highlighted in critical report on the Government’s family migration policies

The Justice and Home Affairs Committee recently published its report All families matter: An inquiry into family migration following its inquiry into family migration in the UK.

The aim of the inquiry was to approach family migration policies in the widest possible sense, looking at general trends in the design of family immigration pathways, as well as looking at the impact of family migration policies on families and on society as a whole. Specifically, the scope of the inquiry included not only family visas, but also family migration aspects of other routes (including, for instance, a refugee’s sponsorship of a family member).

The report is highly critical of the Government’s current family migration policies, finding them to be overly restrictive, complex and inconsistent, as well as at odds with the Government’s commitment to family life. The report states:

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.

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.

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.

A number of welcome recommendations are made in the report which include:

Proper consideration of the best interests of the child

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. 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).

Rosalyn Akar Grams, Managing Director of Legal Practice and Children’s Rights at CCLC, said the following in oral evidence:

International and domestic law tells us that the best interests of a child should be treated as “a primary consideration” in the formulation of family migration policies and other immigration policies. However, in our experience over many years, the immigration system fails to do this. More often, it is given cursory consideration at the point of decision and with no clear articulation of what consideration has been given to the best interests of a child.

Expanding understanding and definition of family and recognising different family configurations

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).

Reform of family reunion for child refugees

The adult dependent relative (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.

Simplification of the Immigration Rules

The Home Office should simplify the application of the Immigration Rules. This involves making evidential requirements more flexible and less burdensome. Wherever possible, applicants should be given a variety of ways to demonstrate that they meet a requirement and the evidential requirements should be more accommodating of minor errors.