Up to 15,000 British children are growing up in ‘Skype’ families because the Immigration Rules introduced in July 2012 do not allow both of their parents to live together in the UK, according to a paper published today by the Children’s Commissioner for England. Many children are reportedly suffering from significant stress and anxiety from the separation of their parents as a result and relying on Skype to keep in touch with the stranded parent overseas.
Skype Families is based on research commissioned by the Children’s Commissioner for England from Middlesex University and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, which examined the impact of recent changes to financial requirements of the Immigration Rules on the wellbeing of children and their families.
The researchers found that the UK has the least family-friendly family reunification policies out of 38 developed countries largely because families with only one parent who is a British citizen need to earn a minimum of £18,600 per year  to sponsor their partner’s entry into the UK. This is 138 per cent of the minimum wage and is preventing many families with children from living together in the UK.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England said:
“There is a wealth of evidence which indicates that children are far more likely to thrive when they are raised by parents in a warm, stable and loving family environment and that is why I am a strong supporter of family-friendly policies.
“I am therefore very concerned that the Immigration Rules introduced in July 2012 actively drive families apart, and leave British children able to communicate with one parent only via Skype.
“Many of the children interviewed for this research suffer from stress and anxiety, affecting their well-being and development. It is also likely to have an impact on their educational attainment and outcomes because they have been separated from a parent, due to these inflexible rules which take little account of regional income levels or family support available.
“We are not talking about having unrestricted access but we need to put the heart back into this policy and consider the profound impact the rules have on this group of British children and their families.”
The Family Friendly? research report which informed the Children’s Commissioner’s discussion paper was coordinated and co-authored by Dr Helena Wray Associate Professor of Law at Middlesex University. Co-authors were also Saira Grant, Legal and Policy Director, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), Professor Eleonore Kofman (Middlesex University) and Charlotte Peel (JCWI).
Co-author Saira Grant, Legal and Policy Director (JCWI) said:
“We have found that the great majority of children adversely impacted by these rules are British citizens. They are being forced to grow up effectively in single parent families despite having two parents who want to be together because their British parent does not earn at least £18,600.
“The Government is under a legal obligation to treat the best interests of children as a primary consideration when implementing rules and policies. The current family migration rules fall woefully short of this and children’s best interests are often reduced to a mere exception.
“In an ongoing attempt to reduce migration the Government has introduced rules which are now adversely impacting on British citizen families and children. This must surely be an unintended consequence but one that must now be urgently addressed.”
Co-author Dr Helena Wray Associate Professor of Law at Middlesex University said:
“Our research shows that the financial requirements are much more onerous than they need to be to protect the public purse and mean that British families cannot live together in the UK even when this is the only practical option.
“The result has been the separation of parents and children, heartache and misery. Some families cannot see how they can ever meet the rules and separation may be permanent.
“The rules urgently need to be made more flexible so that affected children, the vast majority of whom are British citizens, can grow up in their own country with both their parents.”The Children’s Commissioner has outlined recommendations for the Government to address the issue of separated families.
- Increased flexibility when calculating a family’s income to reflect family support available and local wage levels
- inclusion of a requirement to consider the best interests of every child affected
- amendment to forms and guidance to ensure decision-makers properly consider children’s best interests in the decision making process
- changes to the cost of applications and the application process
- grant of visit visas to parents of children living in the UK
- improvements to data collection and publication of applications.