A new report published by the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England (OCC) based on research carried out by Middlesex University with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has revealed that around 15,000 British children are either separated from one parent and living in a 'Skype family' or forced to grow up outside the UK because of immigration rules introduced in July 2012.
British citizens or residents who want to be joined by their non-EU partner must now earn a minimum of £18,600 per year to sponsor their partner's entry into the UK. Nearly half the working population cannot meet this requirement and, as a consequence, many families are living apart and must rely on webcams to communicate.
In other cases, families are living in effective exile outside the UK and cannot return even though one parent is a British citizen or resident and the children are usually British citizens.
The research team, which was led by Associate Professor of Law Dr Helena Wray and included her Middlesex colleague, Co-Director of the Social Policy Research Centre Eleonore Kofman, found that as a result of this enforced separation the children involved are suffering from significant stress and anxiety.
Associate Professor Dr Wray, who specialises in migration law and policy, said: "Our research shows that the financial requirements are much more onerous than they need to be to protect the public purse and mean that British families cannot live together in the UK even when this is the only practical option.
"The result has been the separation of parents and children, heartache and misery. Some families cannot see how they can ever meet the rules and separation may be permanent. The rules urgently need to be made more flexible so that affected children, the vast majority of whom are British citizens, can grow up in their own country with both their parents."
Commenting on the findings, Children¹s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield said: "I am really concerned that the immigration rules introduced in July 2012 actively drive families apart and leave British children able to communicate with one parent only via Skype.
"We are not talking about having unrestricted access but we need to put the heart back into this policy and consider the profound impact the rules have on this group of British children and their families.