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01   Minimum Income Requirement (MIR) - update

Since the pay increase in 2018, new recruits are now earning the required salary of £18, 600 to bring their spouses over after they have finished phase 2 training. However, they are not earning enough to bring any children over (unless they have sole responsibility for that child – click here for further information, then click on option 7 and scroll down to ‘Bringing children from previous relationships to the UK’ ). The income requirement for a spouse and one child is £22,400, on average it will take a soldier 4 years to reach that level. For further information about the MIR including other ways of meeting the requirement, click here and select option 1 – the main requirements.

This issue has been high on AFF’s agenda over the past year and has been raised repeatedly at high level meetings with senior Command, with ministers and with the Prime Minister. AFF has also contributed to a Times article about the issue and has given evidence on the effect of the requirement to the Parliamentary Defence Select Committee. Despite the recent changes in Government, there are still many MPs who support a change in the rules and we have recently been told that Armed Forces issues are definitely still on the agenda.

As well as pursing this issue through political avenues, AFF has also been having success following the judicial route by appealing two visa refusals.

The appeals process

There have now been two successful appeals at the First Tier Immigration Tribunal for visas refused due to the minimum income requirement. One of the cases was successful under the ‘exceptional circumstances’ provision because the judge decided that separating the serving soldier from his wife and child would lead to ‘unjustifiably harsh consequences.’ The other case was granted both under the exceptional circumstances provision and within the rules because the judge ruled that the ‘benefits’ received by a soldier (such as subsidised housing) can be taken into account when calculating the salary that a serving person receives.

Does this mean that the rules have changed?

AFF has been liaising with the Armed Forces Policy Unit within the Home Office who responded as follows to this question:

There has been no change of policy or guidance regarding the MIR, the decisions of the tribunal are not binding. Service benefits in-kind are not included within the calculation for meeting the minimum income requirement under the Immigration Rules. The Migration Advisory Committee are currently looking into this along with other issues surrounding income thresholds and will report in January.

Should I bother applying if I am not earning enough to bring my spouse and child to the UK?

Although there is no guarantee that all appeals will be successful, it does appear that the exceptional circumstances argument for applications from families of soldiers is a strong one.  Further information about what this means and what evidence would need to be provided can be found here.

However, if you are going to make an application then you need to fully understand the process and the level of risk:

  1. The application currently costs £1,523 per person including children (not including associated costs such as the appointment, TB tests etc).
  2. You will need to provide a lot of supporting documentation to try to prove that the exceptional circumstances are met.
  3. It is still likely however that the application will be refused and you will be given 28 days to appeal.
  4. You will need to make an online appeal for each refusal within 28 days. Each appeal will cost £140.
  5. It is likely to be at least a year before you are able to attend a hearing to appeal the refusal in front of an independent judge.
  6. In most cases it will also not be possible to apply for a visit visa for your family during this time as it is likely that the Home Office will not believe that your family are only coming for a visit.
  7. If the appeal is not successful you will not receive a refund.
  8. If the appeal is successful it can take a further 6 months for the Home Office to actually issue the visa to your family!

What can AFF do to support me?

  • The AFF F&C Specialist can provide advice on the visa applications for your family, including advice on the supporting documentation and the application process. However you will be expected to make the application yourself, and to gather and submit the supporting documents.
  • She is able to assist with the notice of appeal and statements of additional grounds.
  • She is able to talk you through the appeals process and assist with preparing the witness statement and the bundle of documents that will have to be lodged.
  • She is not able to officially represent you at an appeal and there is no guarantee that she will be able to attend the tribunal with you.
  • If you choose not to engage a solicitor, you will have to be prepared to represent yourself. You will need to fully understand the requirements of the rules and the exceptional circumstances under which you are applying. You will need to understand and remember what supporting documents you have in your evidence bundle, so that you can quickly and accurately respond to the judge’s questions. The F&C Specialist can talk you through this.

If you do not meet the MIR to bring your family to the UK and you wish to make an application, please contact the F&C Specialist on fcsupport@aff.org.uk

Using back pay towards the Minimum Income requirement

The Home Office has confirmed that soldiers can use their back-dated pay, as a result of the pay rise announced in July 2019, to meet the Minimum Income Threshold to bring their families to the UK. You will not have to wait until you have been receiving your new salary for six months. The annual pay award will be implemented in September’s salaries and will be backdated from April 2019. If you now meet the requirement to bring your family to the UK, you can apply once you have received your lump sum. You must provide bank statements and payslips from the previous six months. Click here and click on ‘main requirements’ for further information about the Minimum Income Threshold.

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02   New online visa application form for visas to enter the UK

Access UK is the Home Office new digital application service and is now available for families applying to join their soldier in the UK under the Armed Forces immigration rules. The form is a big improvement on the previous one, there are fewer questions and you are provided with a checklist of documents that you have to provide.

See the ‘Visas to enter UK’ section on the Visas page for full guidance on how to apply for a visa using this service. Please let us know if you experience any problems.

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03   New system for visa applications launched

On 2 November 2018, UK Visas and Immigration launched a new system for visa applications made within the UK. The new system will work in a similar way to the visa application process to come into the UK. Under the new process, application forms are completed online – you’ll also pay online, including the biometric enrolment fee.

You’ll then be redirected to Sopra Steria’s website to book an appointment to attend a VCAS centre in person, where you will enrol your biometric information. There are six core service centres offering free appointments and 50 ‘enhanced’ service centres offering charged appointments.

Supporting documents can be uploaded online or scanned at the appointment for an added fee. You will retain your original documents, including your passport, while the application is being decided.

This does not mean that all applications will be decided on the day of the appointment, however. You must still pay an additional charge to have your applications decided faster than the standard six months.

Can I travel while the application is pending?

Once an applicant has attended their appointment, although they will retain their passports, they should not travel or their application will be considered withdrawn.

Further information can be found here.  We would be interested to know what you think of the new service and how much you had to pay for your appointments.  If you experience any problems with the online forms, please get in touch.

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04   ILR applications now online

The SET(AF) form is now available to complete online. This should be a quicker and easier way of completing the form.  Please let us know if there are any problems.

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05   Waiting time in the immigration tribunal now a year and a half

The latest tribunal statistics, published in March 2017, show that the average waiting time for appeals to be heard in the immigration tribunal for visas to enter the UK is 83 weeks.

With 51% of all entry clearance appeals being allowed, that is a very considerable impact on a lot people wrongly kept apart by poor quality immigration decisions. It is presumed that the huge waiting times are linked to the recent reported shortage of immigration judges.

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06   Success! One year passport issue for soldiers resolved

After four years of raising this issue and pushing for a change in policy, HMPO have waived the requirement for Service personnel in the UK and overseas to have to attend an interview before they can get a full 10-year passport. Soldiers will no longer be issued with a one-year passport. Unfortunately, the process for spouses is still being reviewed; spouses will therefore continue to be issued with one-year passports for the time being. For further information, please click here.

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07   28 day grace period for overstaying abolished

From 3 November 2016 it will no longer be possible to make a valid application within 28 days of the previous leave expiring. However, an out of time application will not be refused if the Home Office considers that there is ‘a good reason beyond the control of the applicant or their representative why an in time application could not be made, provided the application is made within 14 days of the expiry of leave’. These new overstayer rules are found at para 39E of the Immigration Rules.

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08   AFF receives Covenant funding to support F&C victims of Domestic Abuse (DA)

AFF is delighted to have received a grant through the Covenant Grants Fund to provide much-needed practical support to Foreign & Commonwealth (F&C) Army families dealing with Domestic Abuse (DA).

This new support is available to any F&C spouse of a serving person in any location in the UK or overseas. Support is limited by available funding and is not a self-referral scheme – families must be referred to us by a relevant welfare contact or organisation..

Supporting the F&C community.

Our F&C Specialist has been providing qualified immigration advice and information to F&C victims of DA for a number of years. At a policy level, they were instrumental in pushing for a change to the immigration rules to allow spouses of soldiers to apply to remain in the UK if their relationship breaks down because of DA.

However, due to a lack of resources, at an individual level their assistance has so far been limited to providing immigration advice or information via phone or email – far from ideal for these vulnerable spouses who often need practical help gathering evidence, writing statements and completing applications. .

This new funding will allow us to help spouses directly with their application form to remain in the UK during a very stressful time.

Supporting victims of DA.

The grant will also help us to work closer with support organisations to develop best practice working methods when dealing with an F&C case and to inform others about the unique problems that many F&C families can face.

If you are currently supporting an F&C spouse who is a victim of DA and who needs immigration advice, then please contact AFF at fcsupport@aff.org.uk. Download a leaflet detailing the service on offer.

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09   Saving for visas with credit unions

The MOD has made it possible for three of the UK’s leading credit unions to join forces and make simple savings accounts and loans available to Forces families. The money is taken directly from your soldier’s salary. This is a great way to plan ahead for paying for ILR or Citizenship. For full details, visit www.joiningforcescu.co.uk

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10   ‘Exempt’ confusion on online visa form

A few people have been told by the UKVI International enquiry service that they must select the ‘exempt’ option when completing the online application for a visa for a family member to enter the UK. This is wrong!

The ‘exempt’ option is for International Forces family members only. If you apply using this option, your application is likely to fail. For information on how to apply for a visa for a spouse or child, click here.

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11   Landlord’s ‘Right to Rent’ checks

The Government’s “right to rent” scheme requiring landlords to conduct checks on the immigration status of tenants came into force on 1st February 2016. Private landlords can now be fined up to £3000 for renting property to people who don’t have the correct visas to remain in the UK.

Given the complexities of immigration status and visa documents, it is clear that this new requirement is going to lead to some people being wrongly turned away and the possibility that black and Minority Ethnic people will be discriminated against.

AFF is concerned that these new requirements are going to affect soldiers and spouses on transition who may be looking to rent from a private landlord. If you are affected by this new requirement we would like to hear from you.

Further information about the new scheme can be found here.

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12   AFF success: immigration rules changed for spouses on discretionary leave visas

Many F&C spouses in the UK are wrongly on a discretionary leave visa due to an incorrect application for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after their soldier became a British Citizen.

Previous rules prevented spouses from applying for ILR once their soldier had naturalised until two years had been spent on a different visa.

Discretionary leave was a route created for failed asylum seekers and should never have been given to our spouses.

AFF has pushed for change on this issue since 2011 and has at last succeeded in bringing about a change in the rules to enable these spouses to apply for ILR.

Find out more: If you’re affected by this issue, further guidance can be found at page 11 of this link.

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13   Do I have to be earning £35K to be able to stay in the UK?

Some of you may have heard about the recent change to immigration rules which mean that migrants must now be earning at least £35,000 to stay in the UK after six years.

Army families should rest assured that this new rule does not apply to military personnel or their dependants, who have their own routes and thresholds.

The rule applies specifically to those who enter on the Tier 2 routes (point based system) only. Tier 2 is for those coming to the UK to work.

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14   AFF success: policy change for children born during overseas assignments

Since 2011, AFF has pushed for policy change to address the fact that children born to military F&C families during overseas assignments are not born British – a clear disadvantage due to posting location which leaves families having to pay £749 to apply for Citizenship.

We are very pleased to announce that the MoD has now agreed to start funding the cost of these applications for children born on or after 1 April. Unfortunately, applications for children born prior to this date will not be eligible for reimbursement.

Find out more: Your soldier can find further information in the newly published DIN ‘Family Migration Rules for UK Armed Forces family members who are Non-British’ 2013DIN01-142.

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