Tens of thousands more families are expected to be separated in proposals contained in the White Paper this week. Image: George Hodan/www.publicdomainpictures.net. Some rights reserved/CC0.
As a white British man, I never expected to find myself at the wrong end of the UK government’s immigration policies. But then I fell in love - with somebody from outside the EU. I didn’t know before then that love had a price, let alone that it would be so high; £18,600 a year to be precise.
Since 2012, British citizens have been required to demonstrate an income of at least that amount in order to live in the UK with a partner from outside the EU. That figure rises by £3,800 if you have a child and by £2,400 for every additional child. The income of a foreign spouse is not considered, even if the spouse carries a firm offer of employment in the UK. Support from parents or relatives is not recognised.
Anyone who earns less is condemned to a life of lonely Christmases, birthdays and wedding anniversaries as their families are denied entry to the UK. To say that this is a travesty would be an understatement.
And now, as Britain leaves the EU, the government has promised to level the playing field between people from inside and outside Europe. The long-awaited White Paper – the first in over a decade – will set out the government’s policy on immigration once we leave the EU. After months of backroom squabbles, it is finally expected to be published this week – and may extend the income requirement to British citizens with partners from the EU.
My family’s experience shows just how harsh the current rules are.
Knowing that they could not come and live in the UK, we applied three times for visit visas. Although we met all the requirements, each time our application was rejected. The Home Office made the presumption that my wife intended to overstay her visa.
So, based on a caseworker’s unproven (and incorrect) suspicion that my wife might be thinking of not complying with the rules, she and my son have been denied the opportunity to come and meet the rest of their family, not just once, but three times. And with no right of appeal, we lost six months, thousands of pounds – and were nearly broken apart by the stress of it all.
When we found how hostile the UK was to a family like mine, I made the difficult decision to relocate to my wife’s country. I invested all my savings in building a business there – something I would have been happy to do in the UK had we had the chance. But our fledgling business attracted the attentions of a criminal gang. They hijacked our truck, nearly killing my wife’s father and another employee, and defrauded us. They have since been jailed. As if that wasn’t enough, as my father-in-law lay recovering from his injuries in hospital a huge typhoon flooded our house, destroyed our belongings and made us homeless. We had literally lost everything – home, business, savings, and any chance of starting again in the UK.
The only thing I could do to support my family was to return to the UK to work, alone, and send money to them. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to apply for us to be together here, because I wouldn’t be able to earn £18,600. We were separated for a year - the worst year of my life. I missed my sons 6th birthday and my 4-year wedding anniversary.
Knowing that my son was crying himself to sleep each night because he missed me and was scared that I wouldn’t come back, or be able to protect him from the "bad men" tore me apart. But how do you explain the UK’s ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policies to a child? Unable to be without them any longer, I have now moved back to their country in the hope that things will change.
We all know that the Conservative Party, the architects of the 'minimum income requirement' policy, have traditionally positioned themselves as the guardians of family life, which they see as the very fabric of our society – so why is this policy that splits up those same families allowed to continue?
The justification is Theresa May’s net migration target - a number conjured from thin air in an attempt to appease the far-right voters. The government has embarked on an ideological war against migrants. It doesn’t just affect the migrants themselves but, as families are split apart, it affects our communities. As parents, grandparents, husbands, wives, uncles and aunts are prevented from seeing and living alongside one another, the family unit breaks down.
So, this Christmas please TAKE ACTION to help families that have been ripped apart by these rules. There is still time to influence the government's post-Brexit immigration system. Don’t stay quiet.