Welcome to Britain (perhaps)
SONYA JAY PORTER explores some anomalies of immigration into the UK
Last summer, the Coalition brought into effect new immigration laws which are creating yet more difficulties for British nationals who want to marry citizens from countries outside the European Union and to bring them to the UK.
But these difficulties do not apply to citizens of other EU countries. This is because they are considered to be exercising their European Economic Area (EEA) rights, which are e determined by their living and working in one EEA member state and are therefore entitled to bring their non-EEA born spouse, partner or close relatives to join them when the move to another EEA country, such as Britain. This is a Rights Entitlement enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore should supersede domestic laws.
In other words, the Coalition actively discriminates against its own nationals by imposing restrictions on UK citizens before they are allowed to bring a non-EU spouse – or other family members – into the country, which do not apply to EU citizens.
It was in July 2012 that the government introduced changes of the immigration laws (1). Amongst others were:
- Imposing a new minimum income threshold of £18,600 pa for sponsoring a proposed spouse or partner or proposed civil partner of non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationality, with a higher threshold for any children also sponsored – £22,400 for one child and an additional £2,400 for each further child;
- Extending the minimum probationary period for settlement for non-EEA spouses and partners from two years to five years, to test the genuineness of the relationship;
- Allowing adult and elderly dependants to settle in the UK only where they can demonstrate that, as a result of age, illness or disability, they require a level of long-term personal care.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show in July 2012, Home Secretary Theresa May said:
We think it is right that someone wanting to bring a spouse or partner into the UK, should be able to support them financially and should not be bring in them in on the basis that they’re reliant on the state.
But these laws can be illogical and the Family Immigration Alliance (2) has received many distressing reports from UK citizens affected by these new laws.
One UK national married her husband, an American citizen, in the States and they have now been married for three years. But in spite of the fact that she owns her own property with a mortgage and pays her own bills, her American husband is unable to join her because she does not earn the stipulated £18,600 pa. This is proving a strain not only on their relationship but also on her children who regard the husband as their father.
The Brazilian husband of a British citizen was caught out by the sudden change of the immigration laws last summer. The couple married in 2009 and moved to the UK where the husband was granted an indefinite leave visa. For family reasons the husband felt the need to return to Brazil in 2011 and the couple decided to settle in that country, at least for a while. Naturally, they thought that if necessary, he would be able to apply for the indefinite leave visa again if they had to return to Britain, as in fact they did in September 2012. Unfortunately by that time, and with little publicity, the new immigration laws had been put into effect and because his wife did not at that time earn the £18,600 pa necessary the husband was now unable to get the visa. However, since November 2012 she has been in a permanent position which pays £35,000 pa, well above what is required by the government, but in spite of this, the couple still have to wait until November this year before the husband can request the necessary visa and so must remain apart until then. As his wife says,
I find it ridiculous – I am a British citizen asking for my husband to join me in the UK. He has an inheritance which would pay the deposit on a house for us and I am now working, with a decent salary.
Should the government consider the husband a burden on the state, she adds
He is not entitled to benefits anyway and during the two years he lived here before he was always working and also paid taxes and National Insurance.
There also seems to be another ‘one rule for UK citizens and one rule for others’. Another British wife asks “£18,600 – is that the price the Government puts on a family life?” Because she does not earn the necessary annual salary, her foreign-born husband is also unable to obtain a settlement spouse visa to live with her and their young baby in the UK. She even appealed in court but was chillingly told that her rights to a family life were not being interfered with as she could take her son and go to live with her husband abroad. This is not a judgement even handed down to undesirables the government wants to deport!
Unmarried partners can also be badly affected by these new laws even if one of them has one parent born in another EU country. A student who is half English and half Italian, met and fell in love with a Nepalese national in 2012 and while living together was supported by him as she continued to study both in Britain and in Italy. Recently, their application to extend his visa as unmarried partners was refused on the grounds of their not having lived together the for five year period of time now stipulated which was originally two years. As she says, if he has to leave the country what will happen to them? Why is the government forcing them apart?
The new immigration laws are also splitting families apart in other ways. In November 2012 during the BBC TV programme The World Tonight, Beth McLeod featured the story of Nadya, a 64 year old widow who recently retired from her job as a doctor in Russia and had been helping to look after her baby twin granddaughters in Edinburgh. Her daughter Yana and British son-in-law John had hoped that would be able to live with them and as Nadya said, “Everybody I care about is here in the UK”. But under the new immigration laws, she would not be able to live permanently in Britain unless she needed long-term personal care and even if she met those criteria, Yana and John would need to demonstrate that they could not afford nursing care for her in Russia, while showing that they have enough funds to provide maintenance and accommodation for her in the UK. “It’s particularly cruel”, said Yana during the interview, “that my mother isn’t allowed to be with us unless she’s too ill to enjoy it”.
And yet, In France for instance, one of the main countries in the European Union, family members who were born outside of the EU, EEA and Switzerland are able to move freely within the country as long as they –
- Carry a short-stay visa for France or a residence permit from another EEA country or Switzerland;
- Carry valid identification;
- Have documentation supporting their connection to the European national
And such family members can include extended family, dependent grandparents and children who are dependants or under twenty-one. They should then be able to acquire a residence permit as follows:
- Temporary residence permit — usually valid for up to one year;
- Skills and talents residence card – valid for three years and also renewable;
- Resident card – valid for ten years and conditionally renewable on a permanent basis;
- Retired residence permit – valid for ten years and renewable. (3)
It is therefore not surprising that British nationals are now moving to other EEA countries so that they can effect their EEA Treaty rights for they can then, under a further European Court Ruling known as Surinder Singh, exercise these Treaty rights in their own country.
But why do British citizens need to go to such inconvenience? Why has the Coalition made it easier for citizens from other EU countries to bring their non-EU born spouse, partner and close relatives into the UK, than for British citizens to do the same? Agreed the Coalition has to reduce the number of immigrants into this country, but why the discrepancies between the immigration laws in Britain, France and the other EU states – isn’t free movement of peoples within the European Union one of the basic planks of the Union? Why are these new laws by the government so loaded against the British people?
SONYA JAY PORTER is a Surrey-based freelance writer