The so called Surinder Singh route (SSR) was established by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the case R v Immigration Appeal Tribunal and Surinder Singh ex parte Secretary of State for the Home Department. The ruling relies on EU free movement law.
Mr Singh was an Indian citizen who was married to a British citizen. The couple worked in Germany for several years and then returned to the UK where Mr Singh resided with his wife under Limited Leave to Remain. The couple divorced and Mr Singh’s Leave to Remain was curtailed and he was ordered to leave the UK. Mr Singh challenged the decision and the ECJ decided that Mr Singh had a right to reside on the basis of EU law.
The Surinder Singh case established that the right to free movement, under EU law, includes a right to return. The absence of a right to return would act as a deterrent to moving in the first place and thus an impediment to the Freedom of Movement. Exercising a right to return to a home Member State is therefore a right exercised under EU law and thus it is EU law that also applies in this instance and not domestic law.
What does the Surinder Singh Route Involve?
The SSR involves living and working in a Member State, other than your Home State, elsewhere in the European Economic Area and then asserting the rights associated with free movement to gain access to the Home State while being covered by European law.
What does centre of life mean?
The UK Government has adopted the ‘Centre of Life’ test as a requirement to utilising the Surinder Singh route. This requires that applicants prove that their Centre of Life was transferred from the UK to the host Member State. In practice this requires a minimum residence period of three months (in practice it can take 6 months to a year to secure relevant documentation) in the Host Member State, where the British citizen is either a worker or self-employed person. It must be established that the Centre of Life was genuinely moved to the host state through integration into the local community including employment, permanent accommodation, opening bank accounts, and community activities such as taking language classes, or joining local sports or community groups.
How has the Surinder Singh Route been used?
The Surinder Singh Route has become a method for British citizens to secure immigration rights in the UK for non-EEA spouses. Restrictions such as income thresholds have been introduced for partner migration to the UK as part of the overall effort to reduce net migration to the UK. The income threshold in particular, being £18,600 and above minimum wage, has been criticised as being discriminatory and exclusionary. If a couple are applying from outside of the UK, the income threshold applies only to the British national and does not take into account any overseas earnings of the non-EEA partner. As such, this has left many British citizens unable to secure immigration rights for their spouse. The Surinder Singh route has provided an alternative to the strict UK rules by allowing citizens to exercise their rights under EU law.
Who does Surinder Singh apply to?
The Upper Tribunal of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, has ruled that the Surinder Singh principles apply to unmarried partners and by analogy, extended family members (Kamila Santos Campelo Cain v Secretary of State for the Home Department). In some instances there may be requirements surrounding dependency.
The Surinder Singh route is not exclusive to British citizens but applies to all EEA citizens. For example, a French citizen could bring an Australian wife into France by exercising treaty rights in Germany.
Is the Surinder Singh Route under threat?
There have been attempts to narrow the Surinder Singh route, however, it is a right which is provided for under EU Treaty law, not domestic law, and therefore difficult for any domestic government to restrict. The deal negotiated between the British Government and the EU Commission in advance of the EU Referendum and aimed at keeping Britain in the EU includes a paragraph which commentators believe is aimed at closing this route. However the Surinder Singh right amounts to a right under EU Treaty law and whether clarifications, being the deal secured in advance of the EU referendum, can amend this and have legal effect has been questioned.