Immigration laws aimed at stopping British expats with foreign spouses from coming to the UK and claiming social security benefits were ruled as lawful in the Supreme Court.
Since 2012, Britain has had a two-track immigration policy.
Spouses of British nationals from anywhere within the European Economic Area (EEA) have enjoyed freedom of movement.
This allows them to settle in the UK without restriction and claim social benefits in the same way as anyone else.
But spouses of British nationals from outside the EEA have tougher restrictions.
The British partner must earn at least £18,600 a year before their spouse can settle in the UK. If they have a child, the income threshold raises to £22,400 and then by £2,400 for each other child.
The rules ignore the earnings of the non-EEA spouse, even if they are higher than the British partner’s.
The case was taken to the Supreme Court by lawyers representing couples claiming the law discriminated against non-EEA spouses.
Seven judges unanimously rejected the challenge and agreed the income restriction was ‘acceptable in principle’.
But they felt the rules did not adequately protect children of families with a non-EEA spouse and recommended the rules should be amended to allow alternative funding sources to be considered as income.
They did say that the rules helped the government decide that the couples could support themselves without claiming benefits.
A Home Office spokesman said: “These rules are central to building an immigration system that works in the national interest.”
Victory for families
“The current rules remained in force but we are carefully considering what the court has said in relation to exceptional cases where the income threshold has not been met, particularly where the case involves a child.”
Charities representing couples affect by the ruling welcomed the decision.
Saira Grant, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, accepted the ruling as a “real victory for families”.
“The rules had been tearing families apart and significantly harming children,” she said.
“The ruling on considering alternative funding sources was a significant victory and the government must now take immediate steps to protect the welfare of children in accordance with their legal duty.”