One of the greatest fears of emigrants who have either received indefinite leave to remain in the UK or now possess British passports may be how to look after elderly relatives who have been left behind in a different country, especially if their health is worsening. Each year, the journey to see them is becoming a more difficult exercise. Do family reunification programmes exist in Britain? If so, in what circumstances can a successful application reliably be made? Kommersant UK talked about these questions with the head of Lawyer London Ltd, the immigration lawyer Daiga Barzdina.
Let’s start by clarifying the term “family reunification”. What does it entail?
It depends on the sponsor. Sponsors can either be British citizens, have Indefinite Leave to Remain or be Permanent Residents. Who they can bring to the country depends on their visa. With certain visas, only a spouse or underage children can be brought, while some applicants, such as EU nationals, can bring children over the age of 21. It’s very difficult for UK passport holders to bring in adult children.
What immigration status provides the most favourable chance of bringing in family members, including parents and adult children?
It’s easiest, of course, for EU passport holders who received Indefinite Leave to Remain in Britain before Brexit, on December 31, 2020. They must meet certain conditions, but it is relatively easy for these people to bring in direct relatives; children of any age, including spouses, partners and parents. They can even bring in grandchildren and grandparents. According to British law, if a UK citizen wishes to bring in a relative from another country, there are more difficulties, different requirements and a high price. While it’s free for EU applicants, for those subject to British legislation, the cost of visas is very high, and soon they will be even higher.
Roughly what kind of figures are we talking about?
In the case of family reunification, if, for instance, a British citizen brings their wife from a third country, even from Latvia, they need to pay a fee to the Home Office and pay medical costs to the NHS, so that they can have access to healthcare. The administrative charge is going up by 15-20% and the Immigration Health Surcharge, or IHS by 66%, from £624 to £1,035 a year. Since the visa is issued for two and a half years and everything must be paid at once, the difference is quite significant.
Let’s look at a specific example; a husband and wife have emigrated to the UK and received British citizenship. They work and pay taxes, but let’s say their elderly parents remain in Russia. What options are available to take them to Britain?
To bring parents to Britain from a third country, Adult Dependent Relative (ADR) visas are required. Unfortunately, however, virtually 99% of applications for this status for parents are refused. The problem is that the bar set by the Home Office is very high. They have to prove that parents living, for instance, in Russia, cannot receive the medical treatment necessary for their health in their country of residence as there literally isn’t a single hospital, care home, relative, neighbour, or care assistant who can give the care which the son or daughter living in Britain can provide. The strongest case is if the parent is elderly and has Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. Maybe they’re living on the eighth floor of a tower block. Because of their dementia, they may not be letting anyone into their home. In this case, their child in Britain may be concerned that they might go hungry or not take the medicine they need. This is very hard to demonstrate, but if it’s approved by the Home Office, the parents receive Indefinite Leave to Remain straight away.
Could you give one example of when someone succeeded in bringing a parent to Britain from a non-EU country?
Yes, it happened a couple of years ago. We managed to get ADR status for the mother of our client from Ukraine, but only after we had won the appeal in court. The Home Office refused to issue a visa at first, but then the court annulled that decision. The sponsor, the daughter who brought her mother here, was married to a Brit and had a British passport herself. It was unusual because the mother was about 60, which is quite a young age for an ADR visa. She had health problems and had possibly developed either Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia; what exactly wasn’t clear. We had to prove that in all of Ukraine, no one could provide her mother with the necessary care. We established that with her mother’s diagnoses, she wouldn’t be accepted at an old people’s home because she needed a separate room and in local care homes, two to three old ladies were sharing each room. We gathered written evidence that they would refuse her admittance to one of these care homes. Then we contacted care assistants and they wrote to us saying that the mother wouldn’t let them into her home. We collected the testimony of neighbours who said that the daughter had phoned and asked them to buy groceries for her mother, but that, again, the mother had refused to open the door to her neighbours when these groceries were brought to her. So we demonstrated that the sponsor daughter had used all the means available to her to attempt to provide her mother with care in her homeland. We also gathered medical records, including notes from a psychiatrist (incidentally, parents are often afraid to go to psychiatrists because they are afraid of being “sectioned” and sent to a psychiatric institution). People from social services came to assess the state of the flat and to what degree the mother could look after herself. We also had to show what the sponsor’s living conditions in Britain were like. Since the sponsor daughter was working from home, she could keep an eye on her mother throughout the day. The daughter provided evidence that she and her husband could support her mother financially and that they could pay for her medical insurance. We established what conditions the mother would live in when she arrived in Britain; she would live in the home of her daughter and her husband, in a separate room on the ground floor, so she wouldn’t have to go up the stairs.
How long did this case take, from the day they applied for the visa to victory in court? And how much did it all cost?
It took over a year and a half. The visa fee was £3,250, going to court cost £140 and all the other expenses, such as legal fees, translations and certificates, came to £10,000-£20,000.
Could we say that applying for Adult Dependent Relative status is a last resort?
I always say that if the parents can come on a Visitor visa, let them come and stay here for 180 days or whatever period the visa allows. If they apply for an ADR visa and are refused, that pretty much means they’ll never be issued a Visitor visa again. The Home Office will say ‘You stated that your mother can’t live without your support, but now she’s applied for a Visitor visa. It turns out that she can come to visit you for a week and then go back home, so she must be as fit as a fiddle’. If you see that your mother is having problems such as memory loss or mobility issues, start contacting doctors to gather evidence. After a year to 18 months, it’s time to start thinking about the possibility of applying for an ADR visa.
If, despite the difficulties, you are still planning to use British immigration law to bring your elderly parents to Britain from another country, how far in advance should you begin your strategic planning? For example, how many years of bank statements should be submitted to demonstrate you can support your parents financially and how extensive should be the medical records demonstrating their state of health?
With an ADR visa, there is no requirement for financial support. The wording is ‘Care is not available or not affordable in their home country’. It’s very hard to prove that care for an elderly parent is a lot more expensive in a country like Russia, for instance than in Britain. This is why people often try to prove that care in their country of residence is impossible for some reason. As for how long you need to gather documents before you apply, this, of course, all depends on the specific situation.
What if someone brings an elderly parent to Britain on a Tourist visa, and after its validity period expires, they just stay in the country illegally? What are the risks of this approach? In these circumstances, is it possible somehow to legalise the status of a parent in the UK?
First of all, if parents come to Britain on a Visitor visa, they have no access to free medical care on the NHS. If they stay in the country after the period their visa allows, in the eyes of the Home Office, they are considered to be residing here illegally and they may be detained or deported. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were instances when they came for 80-year-old ladies and evicted them from the country. It’s no concern of the Immigration Service how old the parents are.
So is there no chance of mercy?
We had a situation when a mother was staying with her daughter and grandchildren on a Visitor visa and suddenly her health worsened. She was practically at death’s door. In these cases, you can submit a statement explaining that the parent is ‘not fit to fly’ at the moment. Naturally, a medical assessment must be included. In these circumstances, the Home Office may grant permission to remain in the country for six months or a year. To have this period extended, it must be again proved that the parent cannot leave. This is done at the discretion of the Home Office, as an exception from the general immigration rules.
If, for instance, EU passport holders wish their parents to come here, should their parents also have a European passport? Or is this unnecessary?
Europeans who received temporary or indefinite leave to remain in Britain by living here before Brexit can bring parents of any nationality. Parents with EU passports may come to Britain without a visa and, while here, receive Leave to Remain electronically. If the parents are from a third country, then the sponsor must make the application at a visa centre, at first for a six-month visa to enter the country and then for Pre-Settled Status, which is a five-year residence permit. These applications are free.
You have probably heard the news from Latvia; several thousand pensioners without Latvian citizenship, but with Russian passports, may be deported from the country. If they have children who are Latvian citizens living in Britain, could they be sponsored to come to the UK?
They may bring their parents here in two cases; either if they prove that their parents are financially dependent on them and were so at the moment of Brexit (the Immigration Service requires documentation from 2020 or earlier), or if the parents have medical needs. Evidence of this might be, for example, a doctor’s note stating that a 70-year-old parent requires constant care.
How much easier was it to bring parents here previously? If we look back at how laws on family reunification have changed in Britain, how and why has the process become more difficult?
In 2012, British immigration law changed significantly. This affected spouses without British citizenship who wished to join their partners in the UK as well as elderly parents. For example, previously, if you were married to a British person, after three years, you could receive British citizenship. Currently, citizenship is only given after five years of permanent residence in the country and foreign spouses are required to pass an English exam. As for bringing parents here, if I’m not mistaken, there used to be the requirement that they were older than 65. Why did they introduce these restrictions? Well, probably so that people didn’t bring their parents here to become a burden on the healthcare system. They want people to come and work and pay taxes rather than receive benefits.
Are there any loopholes allowing parents to be brought here which are not stated on the official government site, www.gov.uk?
The loopholes are constantly being closed, even for EU passport holders. For example, after Brexit, until July 2021, it was still possible for them to bring parents here simply on the basis of birth, but now it has to be demonstrated that the parents are their financial dependents. The requirements may change again tomorrow. It’s very difficult to find a loophole. Britain isn’t the kind of country where you can just pay £3,000 and expect to receive a visa. Many people are surprised to find that, after paying all that money, their applications are still refused.
In your experience have there been many cases when requests for family reunification have been refused? What are the usual grounds for refusal?
Due to European legislation, it’s often difficult for child sponsors to prove that their parents are financially dependent on them. Many Europeans do not understand how the situation has changed since Brexit and they are angry when applications are refused. British citizens try not to apply for ADR visas for parents who live in other countries as they understand that they most likely will be declined. Instead, they try to either go back to their parents’ places of residence to look for care assistants themselves or bring their parents to the UK on Visitor visas.
Around 20,000 pensioners with Russian citizenship who are resident in Latvia may receive deportation orders as a result of an amendment to immigration law passed by the Saeima, Latvia’s parliament. According to this law, Russian citizens who hold permanent residence in Latvia must pass a Latvian language exam. Otherwise, they will be deprived of their status and asked to leave the country.
The parents of many Latvian citizens residing in Britain have indeed ended up in this situation, including Elena (her name has been changed). ‘My dad is Ukrainian, he came to Latvia in 1977. My mum was born in Latvia, but her mother, my grandmother, moved there from Belarus in 1959’, Elena told Kommersant UK. After 1990, Elena’s parents received the status of “non-citizens of Latvia”, as their families had not lived in Latvia prior to 1940.
In Elena’s words, several years ago, Russia offered Russophone non-citizens of Latvia Russian citizenship and pensions for work done in Soviet Latvia before 1991, which Latvia was refusing to pay to non-citizens. ‘Their interest was mostly material. Of course, non-citizens of Latvia wanted to receive pensions for their work in the Soviet years. Also, they didn’t want to live as stateless “non-citizens”. It was a chance to at least become citizens of a country’, Elena explains.
Elena herself was born in Latvia and was a non-citizen, like her parents, but at university, she successfully passed the citizenship exam and received a Latvian passport. ‘Nobody used to say in Latvia that 75-year-old pensioners like my parents had to pass Latvian exams and receive residency permits. It’s also unfair because Mum passed a Latvian exam in the 1990s and got Category One (the most basic level), but this isn’t taken into account’ Elena tells us. ‘Since 1 January 2023, they’d had to submit applications for a Latvian exam. My parents didn’t pass the exam and in September, they’ll have to take it again. My dad most likely won’t pass, since he’s never had to speak Latvian. He was a good builder and amongst other things, he built bridges in Riga. Latvians have never had any problem talking to him in Russian’ says Elena.
She doesn’t know what her parents will do if they are asked to leave Latvia; most likely they’ll have to go to Belarus, where her mother’s ancestors once lived. Unfortunately, says Elena, it’s very doubtful that she’ll be able to bring her parents to Britain, although she has an EU passport and Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK. “The British Immigration Service will examine my income to decide if my parents can be my dependents. They will check whether I have sent them money over the last two years (and for those two years, my parents must have been completely dependent on me financially, which means they mustn’t have worked or had a regular source of income). Also, according to the law, I have to provide my parents with accommodation and support them here. My parents have never asked me for money. What’s more, they are working pensioners and they don’t want to leave Latvia, it’s their homeland”.
According to Elena, her parents now feel very dejected and her mother’s nerves have provoked asthma attacks. ‘Of course, If they had known how it would turn out, they would never have received Russian passports, but they say that soon, the Latvians may come for non-citizens’ says Elena.*
* Please note this is a description of the speaker's personal experience and may not give a full picture of the situation of Russian citizens facing deportation in Latvia.