"I have never welcomed the weakening of family ties by politics or pressure" - Nelson Mandela.
"He who travels for love finds a thousand miles no longer than one" - Japanese proverb.
"Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." - Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"When people's love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change". -
David Cameron.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Amanda and Phil: Immigration woes

BritCits supporter Amanda writes from the US regarding her experience of UK family immigration rules.

You can also read Amanda's story here : http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/phil-and-amanda-as-british-student-i.html

Posted from http://hillofstars.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/immigration-woes.html , with permission. Amanda's blog is here : http://hillofstars.blogspot.co.uk/

My heart just breaks for all those families with kids that are affected by this rule. I can't imagine why the government would allow parents to be separated from their children for basically no reason...

'IN MY junior year of college I studied abroad in Scotland. While there I met this great guy named Phil. We started dating, and when I went home in June we became a long-distance couple. I worked all summer and we talked on Skype as much as humanly possible. It was hard but we were committed. I decided the best way for us to be together was for me to do a grad program where he was (he still had a couple years of his undergrad to do). I started my last year of college, and he was able to visit me in October and January, and I went to see him for my birthday in March. I was accepted into the school in Scotland and we started planning.

At that time in the UK you were able to get a 2 year work visa automatically after getting your degree if you were an international student. It was perfect - I would get my degree then be able to live there with no problems while I looked for a job. I moved over in August of 2011, due to graduate in November of 2012.

Then everything went wrong. In April 2012 the UKBA (UK Border Agency - think Immigration Service) got rid of the 2 year work visa plan. Then we really had to think. Well, we could get married so that I could stay there with a spouse visa. But I didn't really want to do that yet. I could try to get a job before my student visa expired in January.... we sort of put it to the back of our minds for the time being - we'd think about it more when it came time.

One day that summer we were watching the news, as we often did, and a story caught our attention. New rules proposed by Theresa May (the Home Secretary, who controls the UKBA) would impose a financial requirement for spousal visas when one partner is from outside the EU. Ok, we thought... but this will probably take forever to get passed with all the government bureaucracy and stuff. It'll be all right, right?


If you're not familiar with UK politics, here's a few details. Their government is run by the Conservative Party, who are, as the name suggests, conservatives (think Republican, sort of). They have a coalition government, meaning their party didn't actually get enough votes for them to have full control over the government and so they share, a bit, with the Liberal Democrats (which makes no sense, but that's how it is). Basically, there are all these smaller parties gaining support like UKIP (Independence Party) and BNP (British National Party) who can basically be classed as xenophobic racists who think Britain should kick out all the immigrants and leave the EU. (EU citizens, i.e., most of Europe, can come and live in the UK without a visa and have many of the rights as UK citizens under EU law).

So, David Cameron, Prime Minister and head of the Conservative Party, eager to pander to the UKIP and BNP supporters in order to sway their votes, made a campaign promise to reduce immigration from the 100,000s to the 10,000s - in other words go back to 1990s levels (read: pre-EU). (Editor's note : Even though the EC existed from the 1950s, the Single European Act of 1992 was what really brought the single market, with free movement of its peoples, into being. Furthermore at that time the EC only had 12 member states; now the EU has 27 member states, and a much greater level of movement due to higher levels of education, opportunity, and the world being a much smaller place, with people taking employment and forming relationships on a global scale. The rules are unfit for the modern, global world). 

 But how can you possibly do that and still be an EU member? Net EU immigration to the UK in 2007 was over 100,000 (source). The latest figures show total net migration at 163,000. Basically, you have to decrease the numbers any way you can. Hence Theresa May's scheme: make families who earn under £18,600 a year (more if you have children) ineligible to receive a spousal visa. (Editor's note: The rules are even worse than this in fact as the non-EU partner's earnings cannot be taken into account; this has led to families where the non-EU partner may earn above the income requirement - even considerably above - being effectively exiled).

Of course, they don't admit that that's why they're doing it. They say it's to "reduce the burden on the taxpayer" who might have to pay extra money if couples can't support themselves and need benefits. (We've seen though how the rules effective force people to become single parents : http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/dee - which will surely add to the benefits bill).

There's a couple problems with that though. For one, non-EU immigrants are ineligible to receive UK benefits. (Editor's note : NO RECOURSE TO PUBLIC funds is stamped into their passports). Second, £18,600 is far and away more than full time minimum wage, and much more than average wage in a lot of areas in Britain. (Median wages around the country : http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/nov/24/wages-britain-ashe-mapped ; 47% of British citizens in employment are unable to bring in a family member : http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/press-releases/women-young-people-and-non-londoners-are-most-affected-changes-family-migration-polic . In fact the numbers affected may be higher as evidentiary requirements are so strict, as these stories illustrate : http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/marianne-and-kei-this-story-which-has.html // http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/gerard ).

Another problem is that the UKBA does not take into account savings (unless it's above around 60k), debt, or family support. (Editor's note : the saving requirement is more stringent than just using income. For someone with no children, it uses the formula £16k + (2.5 x the difference between earnings and £18600). For someone with zero earnings, for instance someone who lost their job the week before, £62500 are required. For someone earning £18599 a year, who just misses the £18600 limit, they would need to have £16002.50 in savings. No discretion is allowed, and as Amanda says no third party support is allowed either).

So really they have no business saying the scheme is to protect the taxpayers.
So back to me and Phil. We talked stuff over and eventually decided to get married before this new law came into effect so that I wouldn't have to leave. Just one problem. I looked it up that day, and the new visa rules were going into effect the next day. So much for that idea. We were running out of options. If I wanted to stay in the UK, I had to get a job. Not just any job - there are strict rules for getting a work visa as well (like it has to pay over £20,000 a year). Otherwise, I had to go home. And if I went home, there was no guarantee and no easy way for me to go back to the UK or him to come to the US. So the best option was to look for a job while I was there, get married, and if I had to go home, have Phil move to the US after he finished school the next June.

Flash forward to today. I came home in January and set about getting an immigration application done for Phil. There are a few steps to this process in the US and they take some time. We were originally hoping he'd be over in July, but now it's looking like the end of the year at the earliest. We're still hoping it'll be earlier but realistically we know it could be a while. We are back to the old Skype routine, made that much harder by having lived together for a year and a half and thinking we'd never have to do it again.

My heart just breaks for all those families with kids that are affected by this rule. I can't imagine why the government would allow parents to be separated from their children for basically no reason (making things more financially difficult for them, and ironically probably causing more burden on the taxpayer). I think Phil and I are lucky that we're young and childless, because yes, it's tough and we miss each other... but we have years and years to be together once Phil is here and there are no kids suffering because of it. Also, I live in a developed country with good quality of life and we both speak the same language. Some couples are not so lucky and don't really have a realistic option to move to the foreign partner's country.

At this point, I don't even want to live in the UK. I don't see the appeal. Kudos to you if you read this whole post, I know it was long. This is an issue that affects me and is something that a lot of British people aren't even aware exists. It's criminal and it's wrong and yet the government is letting it happen. So I wanted to try to bring awareness and share my story. Thanks for reading.

Lighter-hearted posts to come: I share my favorite dinner to make, and possibly another food photoshoot with an original recipe! '

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