Five years on, the Tories’ family migration income threshold is continuing to make people’s lives needlessly miserable, writes NAZEK RAMADAN
AS A British citizen, Laura never expected to be on the sharp end of immigration policy. But when she met and fell in love with her partner (we’ll call him Eyasu) while working in East Africa, it was, as she puts it, “something special.”
They began to discuss settling in one another’s countries. Laura’s contract in East Africa was about to expire and she looked into starting her new family in Britain.
That was when she discovered the minimum income requirement — which bars all citizens earning below £18,600 from applying for a visa for a foreign partner. In short, it uses your wealth to decide whether you have the right to fall in love and have a normal family life.
The requirement was implemented five years ago. There are now thousands of “Skype families,” separated by the Home Office and only able to see their children, parents, wives or husbands remotely. Laura wasn’t even that lucky. She tells us “communication was limited. I spent a week in hospital and watched new parents holding their babies and attending to their partners. I had no-one. It took a week to speak to Eyasu to tell him about the birth of our son.”
For now, Laura’s family is reunited in Britain. And a Supreme Court ruling in March that found the income threshold unlawful in some aspects of its application to children will give hope to many of those affected.
But the policy remains in force — and for no good reason at all. It’s nothing to do with public finances; spouses were unable to access public funds beyond national insurance contribution entitlements prior to 2012.
At Migrant Voice we work with people from all backgrounds; those who have fled persecution as well as those who simply came here to work or study. Among all those groups, and among countless British citizens, there are families separated and struggling under an uncaring bureaucracy that no-one wanted or asked for. They are waiting in limbo for a decision that may never come.
Forty-one per cent of the population earn below the £18,600 threshold, one of the world’s most restrictive.
Marcus, a British citizen we spoke to, is recovering from a long-term illness that restricted his ability to work for over five years, but was never classified disabled on the grounds that he could walk over 100m without resting. He cannot work freely and therefore earns below the income threshold.
He is saving up to be able to bring his partner to Britain (his partner, an LGBT man, currently has to work in a hostile country in the Middle East).
But even if he saves enough, it may still prove difficult.
As well as rising by £2,000-odd for each child involved, the threshold requires a level of income stability that even those in well-paid work who are contractors, or those with savings, may not be able to meet.
This is not the only part of Britain’s migration policy that routinely breaks up normal life for people and families. It is part of a pre-existing architecture of legislation to create a hostile environment for newcomers to no good end. But it is one of the most far-reaching and senseless parts.
It is there because of a political commitment to bring down net migration figures at any cost, a policy based on arbitrary numbers rather than either economic need or human compassion. The government has had five years to meet its target and failed — and it is unlikely that it can succeed even if free movement within the EU ends.
Yet while failing to meet its target, the government has made life more miserable for all those it has targeted: refugees, migrant students and workers, and people simply trying to exercise their most basic right to a family life. The income threshold has already been in force for five years too long. It’s time to do things differently.