Another face of marriage inequality

// 10 June 2013

Police raid on wedding service.jpg

Credit where it’s due: under this government, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has been making its way through Parliament, addressing a grotesque injustice that has been allowed to stand for far too long. But though the coalition giveth with one hand, with the other it taketh away. There is another form of marriage inequality it has been all too happy to promote.

A year ago, I wrote about the (then) proposals to introduce discriminatory family migration rules preventing British citizens and permanent residents from bringing non-EEA partners and/or children into the UK, unless they could meet certain prohibitively high and arbitrarily defined income thresholds. In effect, family migration was only to be available to the wealthy. Others must choose between leaving their home and leaving their family.

Shortly afterward, these proposals became a reality; and although the income thresholds are slightly lower than those originally floated, the results have been as inhumane as the JCWI and other campaigners warned. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, which looked at hundreds of submissions, has published its report today:

[T]housands of Britons have been unable to bring a non-EU spouse to the UK since July 2012, when minimum earnings requirements were introduced. …

Forty-five claimed their inability to meet the income threshold had led to the separation of children, including British children, from a non-EU parent.

In one case, a woman from outside Europe was separated from her British husband and two sons, including a five-month-old baby she had been breastfeeding.

Others affected by the policy include a father whose six-month-old son cannot join him from Nigeria and a pregnant woman whose husband may be deported to Japan at any time. Regional variations in income mean that there is a particular negative impact on those living outside London and the South East.

It seems that if these people were allowed to be with their loved ones, it would threaten the interests of the “taxpayer”, a far more important figure than the partner, parent or child. “Taxpayer” is of course a rather slippery word, since some of those reporting difficulties are in full-time employment at or above the national minimum wage. The parliamentary committee estimates that 47% of the UK working population could not afford to bring in a non-EEA partner. Essentially, the right to family life is not a universal one, but parcelled out by class.

“Families,” David Cameron once said, “are the most important institution in our society. We have to do everything in our power to strengthen them.” Perhaps that is why his government has implemented a regime which, by its own estimates, threatens to tear the families of 18,000 British people apart.

  • Click here for the PDF of the full report.
  • Migrants Rights’ Network is collecting signatures on a letter calling for the rules to be reviewed.

    [Edited to add: The word “minimum” was previously missing from the phrase “national minimum wage” – I’ve corrected this error now.]

    Image shows a smartly dressed couple at a wedding service. Their faces are pixellated and a man in a Police vest stands between them. Shared by UK Home Office and used under a Creative Commons licence.

  • Comments From You

    Carl // Posted 10 June 2013 at 2:10 pm

    This law really does illustrate what this government thinks of the working man in England. I hope that it is challenged in the courts. Nick Clegg is an utter disgrace for allowing this to happen.

    Jolene Tan // Posted 10 June 2013 at 2:18 pm

    And women! Who, I’ve just been informed, are disproportionately affected:

    Carl // Posted 10 June 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Jolene you are right, sorry I am old fashioned (outdated?) and should have said people! This law really does destroy lives-but why would cameron care?

    Michelle Ashton // Posted 11 June 2013 at 3:35 am

    I can’t believe I didn’t know about this rule. I am a UK national living in China, so if I meet someone out here I won’t be able to bring him home as I have never earned more than £10,000 in a year. Great stuff.

    Carl // Posted 11 June 2013 at 8:47 am

    Also you will need £16000 in the bank before you can apply. It would have been much fairer to set the amount needed at the level of the minimum wage, I suppose this would give working people a chance but then it still discriminates against the unemployed! The government line must be do not fall in love unless you have lots of money! Social engineering on a huge scale.

    Jolene Tan // Posted 11 June 2013 at 8:52 am

    “The government line must be do not fall in love unless you have lots of money!” That seems to be pretty much it, alas.

    Where did you get the £16,000 figure from? My understanding was that it was £18,600 income for a spouse, more for children in addition. There are £851 application fees though:

    Carl // Posted 11 June 2013 at 8:55 am

    Unless it has changed I was told that you had to have £16000 in the bank before you could apply (this is the amount you need as you cannot claim benefit). I do hope that this has changed since I asked Immigration solutions in Liverpool.

    esevers // Posted 11 June 2013 at 8:24 pm

    I recently sponsored my Brazilian civil partner’s application for a spouse’s visa. The threshold we had to be over was £18,600 income per year in addition to the costs of the application itself. I am a medical student while she is an international lawyer who was working on a voluntary basis for a refugee organisation. Trying to meet the threshold was terrifying, and if you try to meet the number using savings or money lent to you by family then the number is even higher -completely unreachable for us. We were unbelievably lucky; I won a scholarship, she took on two other jobs and had the legal knowledge to navigate the system, somehow student finance was counted and we had a very sympathetic lawyer (who, incidentally we would not have had if the proposed changes to legal aid were in place); in May her application was approved. The whole thing was one of the most difficult and frightening things I have ever had to do, and we were the lucky ones! It is an absolutely classist and unfair system.

    Jolene Tan // Posted 12 June 2013 at 8:51 am

    @esevers: Thanks for sharing your story – I’m glad you succeeded! (Albeit far more stressfully, it sounds, than it ever needed to be.)

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