Families: only for the wealthy

// 10 June 2012

paddington bear - immigration.jpg

On Friday the Guardian reported on outrageous proposals, expected to be announced by Theresa May this week, to change the immigration rules so as to severely restrict the ability of non-EEA nationals to join their British family in the UK.

The home secretary, Theresa May, is expected to confirm that she will introduce a new minimum income requirement for a British “sponsor” without children of up to £25,700 a year, and a stringent English speaking test for foreign-born husbands, wives or partners of UK citizens applying to come to live in Britain on a family visa.

Immigration welfare campaigners say that the move will exclude two-thirds of British people – those who have a minimum gross income of under £25,700 a year – from living in the UK as a couple if they marry a non-EU national. They estimate that between 45% and 60% of the 53,000 family visas currently issued each year could fall foul of the new rules.

In other words: the well-off can build families with anyone, regardless of nationality; the rest had better stick to Europeans, or be prepared to leave your own country to be with your partner and/or children. The JCWI has put together a dossier with illustrative cases of families who have managed to stay together under the existing rules, but would face immense challenges should these new proposals come into effect.

British governments of various political stripes have form on this. Rahila Gupta, writing almost three years ago, noted:

We have been here before. In 1969, Labour blocked the immigration of non-British husbands on the grounds that it could threaten the job prospects of indigenous men – a move that was both racist and sexist as it assumed that women did not enter the jobs market. In 1974, the law had to be changed because of the number of white women who were unable to marry foreign spouses of their choice. In 1980, the Conservatives restored a ban but qualified it in such a way that it would not affect most white women wanting to marry foreign men.

So this is likely just the same-old in new skin; still, certain particularly ludicrous aspects of the proposals merit examination. First of all, from which black hole of illogic has the income threshold been pulled? If £25,700 is the amount required to maintain a childfree couple for a year, why are benefits claimants expected to live on so much less than that? One can’t help but suspect that the figures expand or shrink, Alice-in-Wonderland style, to whatever is necessary to keep doors impassable and keys out of reach.

Theresa May has argued that British nationals “cannot expect the taxpayer to [support their foreign partners]”, but under her proposals, the income threshold needs to be met by the British national alone, without reference to the earnings, savings, job offers, job prospects or other third party support of the foreign national. It’s inhumane enough to require that only financially self-sufficient families should live together in Britain: but it’s downright incoherent to demand that the financial self-sufficiency arise solely from the means of the British party. What about British nationals who have caring responsibilities, and whose non-EEA partners are the main earners? What about British nationals who fail to meet the threshold and who are ill? Are they expected to choose between accessing the NHS and staying with their loved ones?

And what about British nationals with same-sex partners, whose relationships are not recognised – or whose lives and liberty might even be endangered – in the home states of their partners? Is Theresa May, Minister for Women and Equality, telling gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer Britons that to pursue their emotional lives with partners of their own choosing they may have to relocate to countries which enshrine violent homophobia into law?

The chill that I feel reading about these proposals is not merely academic. I am a Singaporean national married to a British man and currently living in Germany. I moved here from the UK to be with my husband as he pursued a particularly exciting career opportunity (we can debate the feminist nuances of such a choice at another time). I am also eight-and-a-half months pregnant with our first child. At the moment, we’re lucky enough that we would still be able to return to the UK together under the proposals, but I find it profoundly frightening and dehumanising that the government should make our right to do so conditional on the size of my husband’s pay cheque. It’s yet another illustration that the Tories only “support families” in the sense that they cherish an ideological fantasy built around a deeply classist, exclusionary vision of what they think relationships ought to look like. They are fully prepared to simply disregard (or, in this case, quite literally expel) any real families that don’t fit the mould.

The JCWI is urging people to contact Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow immigration minister, to ask him to oppose these proposals.

Edited to add: Image shows Paddington Bear and the caption “Immigration is not a crime”. Shared by Dave Knapik under a Creative Commons license.

Comments From You

Julian // Posted 10 June 2012 at 12:55 pm

Under an exciting quirk of law, if British spouse and Foreign spouse live together in an EEA state outside the UK for six months or more then they fall to be treated under the much-more-civilised EEA rules which do not have minimum income levels, so the writer here is likely to have inadvertently found herself a loophole by virtue of living in Germany. I’d expect Ireland to see an increase in the number of people going there to work for a year before returning with their spouse.

It’s an appalling situation for anybody who can’t do that though. Is it acceptable to link to another blog from here? I wrote about these proposals for the UK Legal Feminist Group here: http://www.legalfeminist.org/?p=128

It’s yet another in a long line of indirect attacks on South Asian migration.

Ruthanna // Posted 10 June 2012 at 7:50 pm

For the writer, I was going to provide the same good news as Julian above. I also think that we should campaign for the use of European law in such circumstances to be wider common knowledge – if these incredibly unfair propositions do become law. Any British citizen who lives and works in Europe can then return to the UK, bringing their family members under the European free movement directive. Not only does that mean that these stringent requirements cannot be imposed, their family members acquire rights automatically with no applications to be made. That means no fees to be collected by the greedy UKBA. An application can be made, to illustrate the rights held under European law, but again, no fee is allowed for that Residence Card. This will be the backlash. And so it should.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 11 June 2012 at 4:41 am

While the European is a nice get around clause, it still requires couples to have a certain level of ‘capital’, whether that’s the money to emigrate to another European country (expensive in itself), the occupational skill-set (potentially including language) to get a job in another European country, or the money to afford to live without work for six months abroad; not to mention requiring an absence of constraints, such as if you rely on, say, family for childcare to work, if you share custody of children with another parent and don’t want to leave them, if you are a caregiver to another family member, or if your main income is your own business. It’s also very difficult for people who are disabled or unemployed to move to another country, because of the expense of moving, and the risks related to surviving whilst also having to learn how to work a new benefit system (and in countries that don’t always have an NHS), which is never something that happens quickly. Do we really want a country where the right to choose your spouse is predicated on your income?

Kathryn Hyde // Posted 11 June 2012 at 1:27 pm

I recently ended a two-year, long-distance, same-sex relationship with an American citizen when it became apparent that we wouldn’t meet the immigration requirements in either of our countries for a very long time. I have many friends who have been able to bring their partners over but coming from a very modest background myself it just wasn’t possible.

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