The Tories’ family immigration rules are irrational, harmful to children and fail even their own justifications for imposing them, writes SONEL MEHTA
ON JULY 9 2012 the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government brought in radical new family immigration rules, imposing a minimum income requirement on British citizens who wish to live in Britain with a foreign spouse of £18,600 — a level of income which more than half the population does not earn. The requirement discriminates against women, the young, the very old, those living outside London and south-east England and those from ethnic minorities.
It is also an income threshold imposed on the British citizen and thus a price tag on love, a penalty for loving a foreigner. It represents a gross interference with the rights of British citizens, who are now forced into divided families with their partner usually denied even a visit visa and British children forced into a single-parent upbringing.
The government claims British citizens can move to their spouse’s country — oblivious to the hypocrisy that we expect another country to afford its citizens the right to live with a foreign spouse when it does not give the same right to its own nationals.
Some British citizens, especially those with roots in Britain going back generations, are adamant they will not be forced out of their country.
Some cannot leave because their ex-partner will not permit children from the prior relationship moving overseas; others have obligations to elderly parents and cannot abandon them in nursing homes where regular visits would not be possible if they moved abroad, nor can they leave loved ones at the mercy of social care.
There are just too many horror stories of how the elderly are treated in the care of strangers for people to leave their loved ones beyond their reach.
The rules do not have any respect for families and are irrational, failing even on the government’s own justifications for them — that foreign spouses are a “burden on the taxpayer,” an obstacle to “integration” and raise net migration.
Before July 2012, British citizens were already required to show they had suitable housing and the means to look after their partner without claiming benefits.
Additionally, back then and now, foreign spouses have no recourse to public funds. This is part of their visa stamp. It’s hard enough to claim benefits if you’re British — with this stamp it is impossible.
Not allowing a foreign spouse into the country tends to mean that the British citizen is likely to eventually leave. This means they are unlikely to pay back any university tuition fees and the country loses their skills and education to somewhere else.
The skills gap left by the departure of Brits is likely to be filled by foreigners, who may not have any ties to the country. Is forcing a Brit into exile really better for the country than letting their foreign spouse, with no recourse to public funds, in?
Tory MPs in charge of this policy claim the richer you are the better you will integrate and somehow £18,600 is the magical number that allows for this. A mere £18,599 apparently doesn’t.
There is no evidence for this and common sense suggests that the richer you are the less likely you are to integrate in your local community.
These rules hinder British citizens from integrating as many have told us that in an attempt to earn £18,600 they work multiple jobs leaving little time for anything but work.
If, however, the government’s claims are true, that £18,600 is the minimum level needed to properly integrate, why then is the minimum wage set so low that someone working full-time — often fulfilling a vital job that most of us wouldn’t want to do — earns around £13,000? Does the government not have a responsibility to ensure these workers, and those on benefits, can integrate in their own country?
Theresa May is focused on meeting an arbitrary net migration target of 100,000. A policy aim which necessitates “encouraging” British citizens into exile too. This cannot and should not be acceptable.
What is especially infuriating though is that even with this interference in the family life of British citizens, May’s government says these rules will reduce family visas by about 16,100 per year, and net migration by 9,000. Net migration for the last few years has hovered around the 300,000 mark. So picking on the family members of British citizens is petty and meaningless.
But, as seems to be the norm with this government, being seen to be tough is more important than actually being effective.
So by all counts, these rules are not fulfilling the government’s own aims nor are they working for the benefit of the taxpayer.
It is little wonder that the Migrant Integration Policy Index has found Britain to have the least family friendly immigration rules in the developed world when we have a government that says “breastfeeding is a lifestyle choice” to justify the deportation of the Filipino mum of a British baby or their claim that at the ages of two and three, children are young enough to readjust to life without the parent the government wants to keep out. Such callousness is surprising in a country like ours given the “British values” we are so proud of. But not uncommon.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court has found the government’s treatment of children for the last four and a half years unlawful, ruling the Tory government is in breach of its obligations per the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Even Saudi Arabia, not famed for its human rights, treats its children better.
The Supreme Court however did not strike down the minimum £18,600 income threshold, despite accepting that it “may constitute a permanent impediment to many couples” and that the threshold “has caused, and will continue to cause, significant hardship to many thousands of couples, who have good reasons for wanting to make their lives together in this country, and to their children.”
The court says the government must consider alternative means of reliable funding where the £18,600 is not met — like parental support or prospective income of the foreign spouse. Much leeway is, however, afforded to the government on how they will address this and we shall see what changes the government is prepared to make.
Whatever the change in the rules and guidance to caseworkers, unless there’s a change in attitude at the Home Office families will continue to be refused on erroneous and even unlawful grounds.
The Supreme Court rightly refers to the fact that families have the option of going to to tribunal.
Yet it does not address that waiting lists for tribunals can run into years and that this is expensive, given court filing and lawyers’ fees. Families do not have the same limitless funds which the government has access to, and so often even a win at first tier tribunal sees the government appealing relentlessly.
Families are an easy target as they’re not big companies whose voice the government hears when tightening of skilled migration becomes bad for business. They are not universities with the power to lobby the government when the very significant financial threat to the British economy from the treatment of international students is publicised.
While companies refused a visa for a foreign employee may find a replacement, families are not so easily substituted. And so the battle continues.
Without respect for families and the rights of British citizens, the next few years will see more people caught up in these rules and more cries of “But I’m British” from those who are shocked they cannot live in Britain with their family.
Sonel Mehta is the founder of BritCits, a campaign run in direct response to the government’s attack on British citizens and residents with non-EEA family members. For more information, visit: britcits.blogspot.co.uk.