UK & World News
May Announces UK Immigration Overhaul
Illegal immigrants living in the UK for 20 years will be able to apply to settle in the country on human rights grounds, despite a new immigration crackdown.
In a wide-ranging overhaul of family migration, Home Secretary Theresa May is to scrap rules allowing settlement after 14 years, but anyone in the UK illegally for 20 years will still be able to apply.
The Home Secretary is also facing a showdown with judges as she attempts to curb their power to block the deportation of foreign criminals on human rights grounds.
In a statement to MPs, she announced that a Commons debate will be held next week to seek the backing of Parliament for new guidelines spelling out how courts should apply the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Home Secretary and a right to a family life - set out in Article 8 of the Convention - was only qualified and could no longer be used by foreign criminals to avoid deportation.
"The change in the immigration rules, to establish that if you are a serious criminal, if you have not behaved according to the standards we expect in this country, then claiming a right to a family life is not going to get in the way of your deportation," she said.
"For the first time, the courts will have a clear framework in which to operate, and one that is on the side of the public and not foreign criminals."
But Labour's shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper questioned whether the new guidance for judges would be enough to over-ride the precedent set by earlier cases.
She said: "I am puzzled by the Home Secretary's decision to choose a motion in Parliament which won't change the law, and doesn't over-ride case law in the way that primary legislation would.
"Surely this risks confusion and legal uncertainty? Wouldn't it be better to do this properly through primary legislation instead? We are happy to work with the Government on getting that right."
Mrs May originally promised a change in the foreign criminal rules at the Conservative conference last year, when she notoriously claimed that a Bolivian man had been allowed to stay in the UK because he had a pet cat. That claim was swiftly denied by judges.
But welcoming the Home Secretary's latest announcement, Kiran Bali of Migration Watch UK said: "This is a very valuable step forward.
"We must do everything possible to ensure that new migrants are able to integrate successfully into our society. Integration is enhanced by economic well-being, a common language, and an understanding of UK life.
"The measures will help communities to tackle these important and sensitive issues."
But Tara Lyle of Amnesty International UK said the announcement "pays lip service to a misconceived idea that human rights are a blunt, immovable tool when, in fact, subtlety in the law already exists".
She added: "It is high time that the sophistication of the law was mirrored in discussions on human rights by the Home Secretary, based on facts rather than pursuing populist headlines."
The Government says the new proposals will tackle sham marriages and reduce the burden on taxpayers.
Under a new "financial independence" rule, a non-EU spouse will have to earn at least £18,600 a year and if they have a child they will need £22,400, rising by £2,400 for each additional child.
Overseas grandparents who are financially dependent on relatives in the UK will be able to settle in the country only if they can show that, through age, illness or disability, they require long-term personal care that is available only with the relative in the UK.
And from next year, migrants seeking to settle in the UK will also have to be able to speak and understand English and pass a Life In The UK test, demonstrating an understanding of British history and traditions.
Overall, the reforms are expected to save the taxpayer £570m in health costs over the next decade, £530m in benefit claims and £340m in education costs, the Home Office said.
Mrs May said that, taken with the Government's other immigration reforms, she expected to see net migration fall from 250,000 to the tens of thousands.