Immigration income measure does not breach rights legislation - Supreme Court
An immigration income measure which is causing "hardship" for thousands of couples who want to live together in the UK does not breach human rights legislation, the UK's highest court has ruled.
Seven Supreme Court justices declared that challenges under the Human Rights Act against the validity of the Government's £18,600 mandatory "minimum income requirement" - needed by a UK sponsor to bring a partner from non-EEA (European Economic Area) states into the country - "must fail".
While deciding that the overall scheme is compliant with human rights legislation, the court also ruled that amendments were required over the duty towards children, and other funding sources available to a couple.
Opponents of the scheme, who say it is "obstructing family reunion for tens of thousands of people" welcomed the court's decision on the need for amendments, describing the judgment as a "real victory for families, especially those with children".
A Home Office spokesman said: "The court has endorsed our approach in setting an income threshold for family migration that prevents burdens on the taxpayer and ensures migrant families can integrate into our communities.
"This is central to building an immigration system that works in the national interest. 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."
The panel of justices, headed by Supreme Court deputy president Lady Hale, said the minimum income requirement (MIR) "is acceptable in principle".
But they declared that the rules, and instructions giving guidance to entry clearance officers, "unlawfully fail to take proper account" of the Home Secretary's duty under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children when making decisions which affect them.
They further ruled that amendment was needed to the instructions to "allow consideration of alternative sources of funding when evaluating a claim" under Article 8 (right to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Lady Hale and Lord Carnwath, giving the unanimous ruling of the court, said: "There can be no doubt that the MIR has caused, and will continue to cause, significant hardship to many thousands of couples who have good reason for wanting to make their lives together in this country, and to their children."
It will have a "particularly harsh effect" on certain types of family, including British citizens who have been living and working abroad, have married or formed stable relationships there, and now wish to return to their home country.
The justices said: "The fact that a rule causes hardship to many, including some who are in no way to blame for the situation in which they now find themselves, does not mean that it is incompatible with the convention rights or otherwise unlawful at common law."
Previous rules only required a couple to demonstrate they could maintain themselves without recourse to public funds. A sponsoring partner must now have the minimum £18,600 income, with an additional £3,800 for the first dependent non-EEA national child, and £2,400 for each additional child.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott commented: " The Supreme Court accepted the legitimacy of the Government measures, but it also held that Home Office rules unlawfully fail to take account of requirements to safeguard children's welfare.
"These rules cause hardship for thousands of families, prevent UK citizens being united with their families and clearly discriminate against women, BAME communities, and people on lower incomes.
"These measures were drawn up as part of Theresa May's failed policy to reduce net migration. Labour opposes rules that are clearly discriminatory. We will implement a fair and balanced immigration system which does not split families apart."
Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Brian Paddick said: " British citizens in loving relationships with foreign nationals should not be discriminated against by their own government.
"These harsh and arbitrary rules exclude almost half of British workers. Children are growing up separated from one of their parents, impacting negatively on their development and placing huge strain on families.
"This Conservative Government claims to care about family values but is tearing families apart.
"Theresa May and Amber Rudd seem hell-bent on reducing immigration at all costs regardless of the heartbreak and suffering it causes. I hope they will read some of the stories that come out today and reconsider. "