"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.

Thursday 11 July 2013

Update on 9th July from Sonel

Wow.  What a wonderful day yesterday was..thinking about it still makes me smile.  Lovely to see so many of you during the day, and those who couldn’t make it, you were there in spirit with the ribbons being used. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to catch up with you all, despite seeing familiar faces (e.g. Andy!)..and others who I knew by name would have been great to place face to name.  However, I did spend the time speaking with Julian Huppert MP who is very much on side, and the lawyers handling the parents case. Julian indicated that while some MPs are aware of these rules, many aren't (so it's up to us that every single one of our MPs at least knows this is HUGE).  The lawyers have recently filed a case against the new rules on elderly parents - they cited an example of another lawyer whose salary was in 7 figures (so over £1m)..whose father is Canadian...and that even this guy would not qualify to bring his parent over. They did not give specific details on their case, however, its definitely one to watch out for.

No matter how many notes I managed to scrawl down, there is so much more that happened. Others will also be writing up on the day, Steve will post something on the website; there may be recordings available at some point and hopefully not too much of what I say below needs correction.  (If you know anyone - perhaps someone you met yesterday - who isn't already on the BritCits database, please ask them to join us so they receive such updates going forward.)

No.10 Downing Street: 2pm saw an alliance of JCWI, MRN, FIA, Preethpal Singh (active in Southampton region) and BritCits meet at Downing Street.  Hugely grateful to MRN for arranging this for us all..to present a petition, the BritCits pack and other supporting documentation, evidencing the unfairness of the rules, to go straight to David Cameron and his staff.  You may well have seen some photos of us outside the number 10 door via the MRN newsletter, twitter, FB etc.  BBC camera people were present...I’m not sure yet where our footage will be used..but it’s there and they cared enough about this issue to be there.

Home Office protest: From there we moved on to the Home Office, where I’m told there were 150-200 protestors..chanting led by Guy (JCWI) and britcit Asthika, sharing their situations and campaigning for a change in the rules. It was fun and just good to feel as well as be, united in the journey to force change.  Fantastic group showing the diversity of the impact of the rules..something I’m actually grateful for. If it only affected one minority group, or one region, perhaps we wouldn’t have felt the togetherness which is so required to ensure we get the politicians being paid to represent us, to do so fairly. I was saddened that a child of about 12 knew the word deport..and enough to say ‘don’t deport my daddy’.  Lost innocence.

Parliamentary meeting: Finally the meeting at Houses of Parliament ..it was packed..people were sitting in the aisles, others standing on the side and photos of only some of the families along the walls showed that in the interest of a migration target, what some politicians have been able to overlook is that their rules are impacting real people, real families..honest hardworking decent Brits, because they dared to have family members from a region of the world outside the European Economic Area.

Michael Allen, a student at Warwick University said 20% of the students at his uni are international; he pushed for immigration taking account of humans and mocked Cameron who on a trip to Kazakhstan made a comment about missing his wife after a few days apart, when with his rules, many Brits have not seen their family for months or even years. 

Fawzia Whittuck then spoke of her son Steve, her daughter in law Yoko and her granddaughter, Rika..all stuck in Japan. This family JUST satisfies the savings threshold...however they are still having trouble getting through the rules. They are convinced the rules as they are breach article 8 of the Human Rights Act, and despite the fact that both of Steve’s parents were born in the UK, he now feels unwelcome in his own country because of the way his wife has been treated. A feeling echoed no doubt by many in the room.

Next speaker was KeithVaz, MP. We should of course be grateful he gave us the 5 or so mins for which he was in the room. He once again spoke of his family history; Keith’s parents are the quintessential migrants, moving from Goa to Mumbai, then to Yemen, and then to the UK, where they arrived with Keith and his two sisters.  He expressed his gratitude to the campaign group and his pleasure that Sarah Teather MP had escaped captivity, allowing her to speak out against these rules (in this I believe he was referred to the fact that Sarah is no longer a Minister and therefore less restrained in what she is and isn’t allowed to say).  
He said he was glad the High Court challenged the current limits, mentioning the average salary in  his constituency in Leicester is around £16k...Leicester, a city of migrants he called it.  He said the Home Affairs Select Committee would have a look at the rules at the request of Julian Huppert MP (lovely, lovely man who grew up in the same area in Australia as me..small world!). He also said that the Home Affairs Select Committee had Boris Johnson as their star witness, who when questioned on whether amnesty should be given to ‘illegal’ (I’m sure he meant undocumented) migrants, said yes.  
BritCits along with no doubt other groups, will be contacting his staff to ensure he fulfils the promised re: looking at the rules. 

Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England then spoke about the impact of these rules on kid; she said fairness has been sacrificed to achieve a goal, which is just numbers. Also said the rules do NOT reflect the commitment from the coalition. She gave a example of case with a British woman with a child in South Africa from a marriage which broke down; here neither the entry clearance officer, nor the immigration judge’s appeal took account of the child’s wishes, which is something required under Article 12.  She supports the APPG’s call on the govt to review the rules..waiting to April 2015 is too long, especially in the life of a child.  These kind of rules are not right for a family friendly nation.

Marianne Bailey then spoke up..this is someone who is a designer, entrepreneur and even involved in an eco-vehicle project which will not only reduce the impact on the environment, but also taxpayers money.  Her husband is Japanese and she is likely to give birth in the next week or so. She is a lecturer at two universities, and despite the fact that she earns over £18,600, because of the nature of her contracts being by term, three out of her four sources of income have been disregarded by UKBA. She was clearly gutted her husband’s income..even while she was on maternity leave, would not count.  At one point I thought Marianne would breakdown in tears, and all in the room were likely ready to console her..when her next announcement of the fact that she owns TWO properties in London, and one outright..NO MORTGAGE!..don’t count towards the savings..which means she will need to sell a property just to hit the strangely concocted savings figure.    Despite having assets, savings, qualifications needed in the UK and an exciting project for our country, she has already been disqualified with Mark Harper telling her husband he had to leave the country. This is one woman who was intent on not giving birth without her husband..which several young mums in the room had already been forced to go through.
Marianne made an excellent point in that where a spouse applies for any other visa allowing them to enter the UK, even for a visit, they are refused as UKBA considers this as circumvention of  the spouse visa rules. She said these rules were against our fundament rights as laid out in the Magna Carta to live in our country of nationality.  These rules prevent 61% of EMPLOYED British women from sponsoring their spouses based on the £18,600 threshold..when Marianne questioned whether the government then thought this 61% were benefit scroungers, a resounding yes was given by Don Flynn of Migrants Rights Network. 
Marianne’s story especially seemed to touch the following speakers; it is very hard to remain untouched when a woman about to give birth is imploring you to let her family just be.

Next up was the amazing SarahTeather, MP. She said the rules are based on a policy divorced from real life. In her words, they are ‘bonkers’, and fail even on their own criteria about economic impact on the UK.  Her view is that these rules are ONLY about driving down numbers based on an arbitrary cap. She requested we all contact our MPs, ensure they know this is an issue and force them to take it up on our behalf in parliament. As much as she and several others MPs are doing, they need more on the panel, more MPs to stand up against the Home Office..and this is something that only we, as constituents and voters can get pushed through.

Kate Green MPre-affirmed these rules are not about saving money..they are not in the interest of children and not in the interest of families.

Baroness Hamwee – who spoke up loudly on this issue at the House of Lords debate last week, had just one main message: Let’s keep fighting.

Fiona McTaggart MP has been campaigning for migration and justice since the 1970s. Her message was and always has been that there should not be a means test on love.  She spoke of her earlier associations with Mark Harper..where he had promised to consider some concessions, such as allowing for the using of property as an asset...however, weeks later no response which she finds is typical of the Home Office.  She was amused to see that some UKBA officers earn below £18,600 – so the people keeping spouses apart are earning an insufficient amount themselves.  She echoed Sarah Teather in saying the rules are bonkers, and went one further, also calling them stupid J    She spoke of one of her constituents, who despite working at Sainsburys and having a second job earns below £18,600. His wife is from Pakistan and is a university graduate, so would likely to be able get a good job here herself job = paying taxes and NI contributions!).  She quoted the min wage figure annualised being £12,627.
There was a bit of an attack on the Tories (not undeserved of course), that if they wanted to be family friendly, the record should be looked at. Labour she said is the only part which has made it easier for families to be together, getting rid of the Primary Purpose rule which kept couples in genuine, albeit arranged, marriages apart.  (Note, arranged marriages are not sham marriages..they’re a concept that has existed in UK’s own not too distant history. So glass houses, stones and all that.)

Stephen Bowen, of British Institute of Human Rights then spoke regarding his view that the rules are a startling breach of human rights obligation, and that they’re unlikely to survive scrutiny by courts. All human rights apart, there is none more important than the right to a family life.  He expressed concern over the threshold being so much above the minimum wage..saying the people most affected by these are going to be care workers in hospitals, soldiers in the army..and those who serve us coffee even. Every day people.  He is convinced these rules are so shocking a breach of human rights that they will NOT survive court scrutiny.  The right of a British citizen to live in their own country is a constitutional right...so imposing self-exile of divided family on Brits is not on.

Thomas Ebsford spoke about his family in Ghana..and was applauded when he pointed out UK does not complain when migrants pay their taxes, happily taking these.

Don Flynn of MRN summarised the immigration policy as ill-considered and ill-thought out...and that the consequences were identifiable immediately from when the rules were announced. Yet Mark Harper indicating the consequences –couples forced apart, kids born without their dad present, well-off professionals being unable to look after ageing parents, Brits forced into self-exile – were not unintended. (!)..begging the question how does he sleep at night?!
Finally we had comments from the floor from several people.  Elderly dependants issue was mentioned as inhumane (ban masquerading as a rule); sex discrimination hitting women even more, with lower average salaries though the rules were hitting all including men in regions outside London/South East.  Another member of the audience spoke of her inability to look after her mum living alone overseas (Russia).  There was a primary school teacher currently undergoing training for when he starts his job (paying over £18,600) in September..which means he will only be able to apply for a spouse visa after March 2014 (plus however long it takes to process the application is how long this couple will be apart). The irony here though is that a man entrusted with the welfare of our children is being forced to be apart from his family and even miss the birth of his own child. I’ve said this before and I can’t say it enough times. Even if the rules change right now, those who have already been affected will never forget; kids will grow up knowing their dad missed the first few days, weeks, months and in some cases years of their life..and they won’t forgive.

Concluding the meeting was the fantastic Habib Rahman from JCWI: he said these rules have attacked everybody and implored everyone to keep sharing their stories (pls pls pls send in your story for inclusion in the pack....collating the stories makes it much more powerful), lobby your MPs, don’t let them brush you off. Be vocal about things, go to your local paper even. Raise awareness.  His message very clearly was an unequivocal, we will win!

The message across the board therefore is, contact your MP..ask them for a surgery appointment. Ask them to raise your case with Mark Harper and Theresa May (don't be disheartened as the first response you get back will be standard spiel about not being a burden on taxpayers etc). Pursue. Keep writing. Take up your MPs time on this issue so much that they will be overloaded with immigration casework. So mcuh so they will want the rules changed just to get you to leave them alone. These people represent us. Thats what theyre paid for. So while being reasonable, don't let them get away with ignoring you, brushing away your concerns. Get your friends and family to also lobby their MP. Ask questions. Ask why.

We are in this together, and together, as Habib said, we will win.
Sonel (BritCits)

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