Rules on foreign spouses creating 'Skype' families, Children's Commissioner says


At least 15,000 children are separated from one of their parents because of rules on Britons bringing foreign spouses into the country, according to a report.

Since 2012, only those who earn at least £18,600 a year can sponsor visas for a husband, wife or partner from outside Europe. This rises to £22,400 if a child is not a British citizen or not settled in the UK, with an extra £2,400 per year for each additional child.

The restrictions have created thousands of "Skype families" in which children only speak to one of their parents over the video chat service, it is claimed.

A report published by the Children's Commissioner for England said thousands of youngsters are in effect growing up in single parent families, with the majority thought to be British citizens.

Affected children are suffering distress and anxiety because of the separation, according to the research.

Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield said the rules "actively drive families apart" and "leave British children able to communicate with one parent only via Skype".

She added:"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."

Research was carried out by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and Middlesex University on behalf of the Children's Commissioner.

A discussion paper based on the study said: "This research estimates that at least 15,000 children have been negatively affected by financial requirements in the three years following implementation of the new rules.

"They are living separated from a parent with reported stress, anxiety and difficulties for the children and their families. It is likely that this number will continue to rise if the policy remains unchanged."

It says British citizens returning to the UK after living in countries with lower salaries can be "particularly affected" by the financial requirements.

One hundred families were surveyed to assess the impact of the financial requirements.

Those interviewed reported emotional and behavioural problems, including eating and sleeping issues, among affected children, the paper said.

It added: "Many parents reported that their children had become clingy and dependent on one parent; children often suffered from separation anxiety and became socially withdrawn, and some described children having difficulty socialising and experiencing problems at school."

Saira Grant, of the JCWI, said children are "being forced to grow up effectively in single parent families despite having two parents who want to be together" because of the earning requirements.

She said the current rules "fall woefully short" of a requirement to treat the best interests of children as a primary consideration.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard and make a contribution.

"But family life must not be established here at the taxpayer's expense.

"That is why we established clear rules for British citizens looking to bring their non-EU spouse to this country, including a minimum income threshold, based on advice from the independent Migration Advisory Committee.

"The level of the minimum income threshold reflects the income at which a British family generally ceases to be able to access income-related benefits.

"The policy has been approved by Parliament, and upheld by the courts as lawful and compliant with our legal duty to safeguard and promote child welfare."