New rules for armed forces family migration from 1 December 2013

The Immigration Minister, Mark Harper, has announced new migration rules which apply to members of HM Armed Forces and their family members. The new rules come into effect on 1 December 2013.

Members of the armed forces have been exempt from the broad review of the Immigration Rules which has to date affected most visa categories. This exemption was made pending a review of how the new rules would affect service personnel. The review is now complete and this announcement includes the details of how the rules will apply.

The changes to the rules are broadly intended to bring things in line with the normal migration rules applying to family visas. This means that the various changes brought about to reduce the potential burden on British taxpayers, such as the recently challenged salary threshold, are included.

With effect from 1 December 2013, the following rules will apply to Armed Forces families:

  • Service personnel who wish to sponsor their non-EEA dependants to enter or stay in the UK must meet a minimum income threshold of £18,600 for a partner, £22,400 for a partner and child and £2,400 for each additional child.
  • A basic English language requirement will also apply to all non-EEA partners seeking to enter or stay in the UK. This will be in line with the current such language requirement which applies to the partners of civilians and of serving British personnel.
  • Non-EEA partners of British and of Foreign and Commonwealth citizens serving in HM Forces will serve a five year probationary period before being eligible to apply for settlement.
  • To qualify for settlement, non-EEA partners and children between the ages of 18 and 65 will have to demonstrate a knowledge of language and life in the UK. This will involve passing the Life in the UK test and holding an intermediate level English language speaking and listening qualification. This is a new, more robust, requirement which is being introduced across the immigration system from 28 October 2013 (as set out in the Home Office Statement of Intent on Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK for Settlement and Naturalisation published on 8 April 2013. Dependants of serving British citizens, most of whom are already subject to a knowledge of language and life in the UK requirement, will switch to the new requirement from 28 October. Dependants of Foreign and Commonwealth citizens serving in HM Forces, who are not currently subject to the requirement, will be required to meet it from 1 December.

The new Armed Forces Family Rules take full account of the principles set out in the Armed Forces Covenant, which states that service personnel and their families should face no disadvantage as a result of service. Accordingly, the new Rules will incorporate the following provisions specifically designed to accommodate overseas postings:

  • Applications may be made from overseas for all categories of leave under the Armed Forces Rules.
  • The duration of a settlement visa under the Armed Forces Rules will be extended to 5 years to enable a dependant to apply for settlement without having to renew their initial visa. This will remove the financial disadvantage currently faced by those who are overseas where application fees are more expensive than in the UK.
  • Time spent overseas on an accompanied posting will be regarded as time spent in the UK for the purpose of calculating the residence required for settlement.

The new Rules will also remove some further anomalies and practical obstacles inherent in the current Rules. Where a serving Foreign and Commonwealth member of HM Forces naturalises as a British citizen, their family will be able to continue to progress to settlement; they will no longer need to switch immigration route because their sponsor’s immigration status has changed. Bereaved non-EEA partners of Foreign and Commonwealth citizens serving in HM Forces will be treated in the same way as bereaved partners of British personnel and will be able to apply for settlement immediately if the sponsor dies in service, even if the death is not directly attributable to service. And alongside the new Rules, we will deliver faster grants of settlement for service personnel on discharge, count reservist time on deployment towards residency requirements in the applicant’s substantive immigration status, and introduce an Armed Forces specific application form to facilitate identification and processing of applications from the Armed Forces community.

Transitional arrangements will apply to family members who already hold valid leave as a dependant of a service person, and to those who submit an application before 1 December 2013. These are set out in full in the statement of intent. Taken together, these measures form a balanced set of provisions which reflect our overall approach to delivering a robust and sustainable immigration system, while taking account of the particular circumstances of the Armed Forces community.

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