Refusing children under the sole responsibility rule

The provisions on sole responsibility apply where a child is seeking to join one, rather than both parents, in the UK. They affect children applying under numerous categories, including the stepchildren of British citizens and the children of Tier 2 migrants (i.e. work permit holders).  The test is whether the relevant parent has “continuing control and direction over the child’s upbringing”.  A parent must show that they make all the important decisions in their child’s life.


These rules, which have been around for over 50 years, have recently attracted some attention in the press.  The cases relate to the children of two separate Oxford academics. The 9-year-old son of Dr Wesam Hassan, an Oxford PhD student, was refused on the basis of this rule. The Guardian reports that Dr Hassan’s husband is a humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations. He works in Yemen, which is a UN non-family duty station due to the conflict there. The couple’s son was refused entry on the basis that Dr Hassan does not have sole responsibility. 

A similar refusal was reported earlier in October. That case related to the young daughters of an American academic, Dr Amber Murrey. The children were refused on the basis that Dr Murrey does not have sole responsibility for the girls. Dr Murrey’s husband is from Cameroon and the family’s plan was for him to remain there to manage business interests and later move to join his wife and daughters in the UK.

These cases are not mistakes or anomalies. They are the application of a rule which severely restricts a child from moving to the UK with just one parent. Parental consent is not relevant. Indeed, the rule also leads to single parents being refused on the basis that another relative, typically a grandparent, has or shares responsibility for the child.  For example, issues with the sole responsibility frequently arise in cases where:

  • Separated parents co-parent their child and one parent is moving to the UK for work or to join a new partner
  • One spouse wishes to move to the UK temporarily for work or to study while the other remains overseas. The couple plan for the children to live with the parent moving to the UK
  • A parent leaves a child with a grandparent when they first come to the UK and later wishes for her child to join her

There are also a range of practical issues with proving sole responsibility, even where a parent does meet the rules. It is not uncommon for the child of a single parent to be refused on the basis that they have not provided sufficient documentation to show sole responsibility.

The sole responsibility rule sits ill with the way families run their lives in the 21st century.  It also potentially conflicts with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to respect for family life, and the best interests of the child.  The rule is ripe for review.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Katie Dilger, a Senior Associate in the Immigration Department. Katie convenes the Family & Personal working-group of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association.  

This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of October 15, 2019.