"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 29 January 2015

Liberal Democrats and family immigration

As we head closer to the General Election, BritCits last week approached all the major parties (and many of the  major minor ones) for their commitment, pledge, policy - call it what you like - on immigration, especially family immigration.  Our write-up on Labour's proposal can be found here.  We are still awaiting for a response from Labour on how they intend to review the rules for elderly relatives, on which they have recently, sadly, been silent.  However we remain positive that a response is forthcoming.

In this post we include a response written exclusively for BritCits by Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, and his fantastic team, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, to whom we extend our sincere gratitude.  In all our dealings, I have found them to be prompt, fair and straightforward - personal opinion of course, but there are too many politicians out there, including my own MP, who could learn a thing or two from Julian and his team, on what working for the people really entails. 

However, the aim of these posts is not to provide parties with a platform to bash each other, as frankly, none of the three major parties is blameless for the mess that is UK family immigration rules.  The rules were brought in by a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, unhindered by Labour, on 9 July 2012, with less than a month's notice.  Since then, the UKIP hate-vortex has whipped those who prefer to be blindly led into an unfounded frenzy, just to promote an anti-EU agenda.

Politicians should be urged to remember their job is not only to represent voters, but that they have a professional and moral obligation to present us with facts, not convenient political spin, half-truths and sometimes blatant lies.  In any other profession, such behaviour would be met with disqualification, financial penalties and loss of job!  Staying silent in the face of the public being led astray for fear of public recrimination is almost as bad. 

Until recently, no party has steadfastly held up the pro-family flag where it involves the dirty 'i' word, 'immigration'.  The devastation wreaked on families because of the rules and how they are applied is well documented on our site, by other organisations and the media, and even in the MM case, at the Court of Appeal last March. 

It is thus heartening to see Lib Dem acknowledging the income threshold for sponsorship of a partner is too high.  More from them on what level of threshold, in any, would be fair is welcome, other changes in the application of the rules, as well as commentary on the requirement for foreign partners from select countries to achieve a certain level in the English language.  Would the best place to learn English not be surrounded by those who speak it, with the support of your British partner and children?

The Lib Dem proposal to review the rules for elderly/adult dependant relatives is particularly welcomed and much needed.  I'm not sure whether even Julian understands what a farce the ADR rules are, with the British Medical Association stating that we are losing NHS-trained doctors to countries like Canada and Singapore with family friendly immigration policies.

The super visa proposed by Lib Dems to replicate the Canadian system is a fantastic addition, and would meet the requirements of many elderly relatives who do not wish to settle in the UK, but do not want to be constrained to six months.

Julian's response is included below unedited - save for my putting in bold the sections relating to family immigration: 

“Immigration has massively benefited the UK. We are richer, culturally and economically, as a result of those who migrate to study, work and play in our country. More fundamentally even, we are a nation of immigrants – migrants have come to our country over centuries, and we should embrace this heritage as an essential part of our national identity.
In today’s political climate, it is deeply unfortunate that my party seems to be the only one willing to stand up for migrants and their rights. The Tories are running scared of UKIP – that is why they increasingly scaremonger and talk about getting ‘tough on immigration’, which massively ignores the fact that migration benefits us all. Their proposal to introduce a net migration target below 100,000 was absurd. That is why we told the Tories it would never form part of the coalition agreement.
Labour are sadly also following that race to the bottom, boasting about their ‘tough new approach on immigration’. They know how toxic that is to many of their supporters, and perhaps that is why briefings from their party headquarters tell candidates they should “avoid talking about immigration”. It was left to us to take on UKIP last May, with Nick Clegg the only party leader prepared to challenge the xenophobic message coming from Nigel Farage.
I am proud my party stands up for and will continue to stand up for the rights of immigrants. But to do this, we need to have a competent system that allows us to know who is here and who isn’t, and that can deal competently with visa applications. The failures of the Home Office, then UKBA, have understandably led to a catastrophic loss of trust in the system, and that is partly responsible for the current toxic level of debate. Labour scrapped exit checks, so we had no idea who had stayed in the country illegally, and who had left as they said they intended to. We are working on reintroducing those checks, so our policies can be based on actual evidence of what is happening.
Partly because of this chaos, Labour let too many people come in illegally. They made it hard for people to get here legally, and treated many asylum seekers very badly, but they did far less about those who were prepared to break the law to get here. I’m pleased we’ve closed down serious loopholes, such as the bogus colleges that were operating. We should encourage and support legal migration, not encourage people to behave illegally.
And we should treat people decently when they are here. Labour detained huge numbers of children for immigration purposes at the infamous Yarl’s Wood Family Unit - 7,000 children in their last 5 years, for months on end in some cases. Thanks to Lib Dem pressure, that is no longer the case. However, we still have too many elements of the inhuman ways people were treated - such as the Azure card scheme, which forces vulnerable people to buy essential goods from only a select few shops and the ban on asylum seekers working, even if they have been waiting over 6 months for a response from the Home Office. We should want these people, many of whom are very skilled, to work, and we should expect them to seek work.
As I wrote at the beginning, the benefits of immigration wholly outweigh the costs and, frankly, we need migrants. Without them, we’d be short of doctors and nurses, business experts and investors, just to name a few. 1 in 7 companies were set up by immigrants, employing huge numbers of people.
As Liberal Democrats, we firmly believe in the right to family life. Unfortunately there are many migrants in the UK who are separated from their loved ones. This causes a lot of misery and pain – our aim should be to allow family union wherever possible whilst also ensuring the system is watertight to abuse.
Changes to rules meant that people needed an income of £18,600 to bring a family member in (more with children), and this has caused too much anguish. We think that figure has to be revisited. Indeed, given that 47% of the UK population would fail to meet this threshold, it can hardly be reasonable to expect migrants to meet it, especially when the income from the migrant isn’t counted. That is why we are calling for the Migration Advisory Committee to re-consider the income tax threshold level.
Over a number of years, rules have also been tightened on elderly dependent relatives coming to the UK. Now the rules are so tight that elderly dependent relatives can only come to our country if they aren’t able at all to receive care in their home country. This goes too far. As long as elderly relatives can be supported by their family members and will not be a drain on the NHS, they should be able to come to this country. This sets the right balance between helping divided families come together and not overburdening the taxpayer.
There are also very serious problems with short-term visits. The Home Office are often far too slow-moving in granting visas – families who want to unite to meet for occasions like weddings and funerals often face unnecessary frustrations. This must change. To improve speed of decisions, we want to use a new system developed in Croydon and roll it out nationally. In Croydon, a face to face visa application service using a PEO model has proved itself to be very efficient. Decisions also need to be better quality. Hence why we are proposing new standards for immigration officers who should be recruited as skilled professionals rather than as administrators. Finally, we want improved training programmes for them.
A final Lib Dem proposal is our grandparents’ “super visa”. One problem we currently have is that foreign grandparents can’t visit their families for long periods of time. Canada has introduced an extended tourist visa for people in those circumstances. Liberal Democrats want to follow lead by making changes to introducing a grandparents’ super visa, allowing grandparents to visit for up to 2 years on condition of an actuarially-calculated health levy.
Liberal Democrats are the party that will stand up for migrants. We have done very important work to tighten up on problems which Labour left us with. But we know much more needs to be done to help divided families. Migrants come here to contribute and help all of us – but the system at present is letting many down by not allowing them to unite with relatives. If we are in coalition again, we will fight to do everything we can to overcome this. We are the only party that wants to and can deliver for migrants.”

Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge


  1. I really appreciate the work that BritCits has done here, and look forward to reading the responses from other parties.

    I am very puzzled by two parts of Mr. Hupper's response in particular. When he says,

    "Unfortunately there are many migrants in the UK who are separated from their loved ones", and then later, "...given that 47% of the UK population would fail to meet this threshold, it can hardly be reasonable to expect migrants to meet it..."

    his statement seems to disregard the British Citizens who are separated from their families by the rules introduced in 2012, and acknowledge only migrants in this country who are separated by them.

    To my eyes, this can only come from either an ignorance of the fact that British Citizens are affected by these rules - or a deliberate refusal to acknowledge them. So, which is it?

  2. In all our dealings, I have found them to be prompt, fair and straightforward - personal opinion of course, but there are too many politicians out there, Divorce Lawyer in UK including my own MP, who could learn a thing or two from Julian and his team, on what working for the people really entails.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. It's a shame that the Lib Dems have been pushed aside so much in terms of modern politics, as they seem to have some genuinely thoughtful and interesting ideas!