"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.

Friday 3 January 2014

How the government wants you to see family migrants

Official discourse on family migration sees certain words crop up time again. This use of language plays a significant role in justifying the family reunification rules and shaping public opinion, and consequently, in framing the wider immigration debate.

Conservative policy maintains the party is, “… restoring order to our immigration system,” and in doing so, they have implemented a number of reforms to the family route.

Those familiar with the amended rules will have heard the mantra frequently:

“We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard and make a contribution but a family life must not be established here at the taxpayer's expense. To play a full part in British life, family migrants must be able to integrate – that means they must speak our language and pay their way. This is fair to applicants, but also fair to the public.”

Yet the July 2012 introduction of an earning threshold of £18,600 for anyone wanting to bring a non-EEA spouse to settle in the UK has been anything but fair, to both ‘sponsors’ and ‘taxpayers’ – often one and the same.

Many contributors earn below the threshold and are therefore excluded and unable to enjoy family life in the UK.   

Government discourse assesses migrants seeking to settle in the UK with their British family in terms of whether they are hard-working, can make a contribution, will become a burden or are able to integrate. Protecting the ‘taxpayer’ is paramount.

Family migrants have no access to social benefits during the compulsory five-year probationary period towards settlement and plans are already in place to charge them for use of health services.

Low earners are not necessarily lazy; indeed many are parents with childcare commitments, and as for marriage to a Brit, it is arguably one of the most effective means of integrating into British society besides learning English.

This is not to say family-class immigrants should be allowed to come here at the expense of those already settled in the UK. Even the old rules effectively protected against this.

The repetitive use of ‘our’, such as ‘our immigration system’, ‘our values’, ‘our communities’ and ‘our language’, reveals an intentional distinction between citizen and migrant. There is no emphasis on tolerance or respect for different cultures as a means towards social cohesion and harmony. 

Then there are the distinctions between the ‘high value’ and ‘low-skilled’ migrant, and the ‘hard-working’ and ‘without means’ migrant. But these terms are misleading, not least because all can apply to both citizen and migrant.

The government fixation with protecting the taxpayer through limiting migrants’ access to benefits ignores the fact there is no evidence to suggest family-class migrants come to the UK with the primary purpose of abusing the welfare system. They are here to establish family life with a British partner.

Furthermore, there is no real risk of a ‘flood’ of family migrants since the number of Brits marrying non-EEA partners is unlikely to change significantly within a short space of time, so this category of immigration presents little in the way of a threat of unmanageable burden on public services.

Family migrants who are unable to meet the spouse visa criteria are deemed undesirable regardless of their family ties in the UK, their knowledge of British life or their ability to pay their own way or rely on third-party support.

The unqualified sponsor, on the other hand, quickly goes from taxpayer to burden, contributor to abuser, citizen to exile. In many cases, British children are driven out of the UK as a result of one parent not qualifying.

Is this what ‘restoring order’ looks like? Dividing families, forcing Brits to become single parents and making British children grow up minus one parent simply because that parent is not British? These policies are not fair to applicants or the public, as the Conservatives claim.

Recent studies reveal family migrants make a positive fiscal contribution on public finances. Yet their value goes beyond the economic price tag the government has awarded them. They are part of the very building blocks of a stable society and community, as Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, pointed out in December 2013. 

The sooner the public stops seeing family immigrants in the government’s terms, the sooner we can put an end to these shameful, un-British policies which are causing devastation to genuine families.

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