"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 30 July 2015

BritCits newsletter 30th July

The most recent news-letin from 30th July can be read here, covering:
  • The new UK Residence Card form
  • Home Office's non-response on BC's FOI on UK's implementation of McCarthy and the ICO's involvement
  • ADR - we're on the verge of issuing our claim
  • Family of the week  
  • David Sheekey's Ugandan wife of 9 years not even allowed to visit him
  • Funnies
 Previous versions are available by clicking on 'Past Issues' on the top left hand side at the link above.

If you'd like to receive the newsletters directly into your inbox, please sign up here.

BritCits Divided Family of the Week - Rachel & Ahmed

“We haven’t applied for a spouse visa yet.  The new rules have left us fearful and in a kind of limbo.”

Rachel is a 23 year old British citizen, a university student reading Arabic and Art History.  She is married to Ahmed, from Egypt

As part of her degree Rachel had the option of spending a year abroad in Egypt, Palestine or Jordan.  She opted for Egypt as three years previously she had visited Cairo to assess the suitability of her degree, where she met Ahmed during a flat search.

After Rachel left Egypt they kept in touch via Skype and three months later, she was visiting him in Egypt once again. Three months after that, he came to stay with Rachel and her family in Cornwall for Christmas.  Since then, they haven't gone for longer than 3 months without seeing each other, be it in Cairo, during term-time in London or with Rachel’s family in Cornwall.  

When they got engaged, they planned to marry during Rachel’s year abroad because a lot of her friends from university would be able to attend and balance out Ahmed’s big family at the wedding!

Rachel had heard about some new changes to the rules at the time, but didn't really think anything of it – she assumed it would be higher application fees or the like.  She never expected they would raise the income threshold to £18,600 p.a. and restrict financial support.  Indeed, a friend who had married an Egyptian was allowed to have her parents as providers of third party support for his visa (this was before July 2012).   As they knew Rachel would have her final year at university to complete, Rachel was also relying on her parents to do the same (and they were happy to), with Ahmed staying with Rachel during her last year in London.

Rachel is on course for a first-class degree and fairly confident of her earning potential after she graduates – however she firmly believes it should not just be her capacity to work and earn a decent salary which should count.  She finds it frustrating that neither the spouse's earning potential nor his financial situation are taken into account.  

If the government is so keen to ensure no burden on taxpayer, then given Ahmed will already have a clear ‘no recourse to public funds’ in his passport – surely it’s his financials which should be taken into account?  The same company that Ahmed works for in Egypt are currently advertising for the same job in England, with an annual salary of £36,000 - this is obviously much, much higher than the company pays their employees in Egypt.

Ahmed is qualified, has a good command of English and therefore good job prospects, which would be of great help to Rachel as a final year university student, in terms of rent and other expenses which Ahmed would help out with.

Rachel has never claimed benefits and has no interest in doing so, either.  Both their families are be able to help them out should they find themselves in a difficult situation – so no reason why third-party support should not count.

After three years of going back and forth -  though their relationship is more than worth all the travel they have endured – they are tired. They want to be able to plan their future but at the moment, in addition to the political instability in Egypt, everything seems so uncertain.

At present they’re applying for Ahmed’s family visit visa so at least he can come and visit Rachel while she is at university.  

Rachel considered putting off her studies to go down the Surinder Singh route, but that would pose an unnecessary financial burden – without much of a time saving on her completed her degree and going straight into employment.

She has however postponed her decision to do a Masters!

Political instability in Egypt aside, Rachel needs to be in the UK.  Her dad passed away, and she is the only child and grandchild.  While the government claim she can exercise her right to a family life with her husband elsewhere, what about her mum and grandma’s right to a family life especially when her grandma is not able to travel?

It seems to this couple that in their aim to bring down net migration, not only is the government keeping foreigners out of the country, but trying to encourage British citizens to leave too.

Rachel and Ahmed married in March 2013.  After spending an amazing nine months in Egypt, it's been hard readjusting to life back in the UK without her husband.  She barely feels like a newly-wed!

She considered staying back in Egypt for the summer, but thought it would be best to come back and work and try to earn as much money as possible to put aside for the future.  Ahmed is doing the same in Egypt.  

It really is demoralising to know that despite the no recourse to public funds, the couple may not be able to start to build their lives together until at least a year from now.  

It has put pressure on Rachel to find a job immediately after she graduates, which in the current climate of internships and focus on the importance of gaining experience (i.e. an acceptable form of unpaid employment) it is difficult for her to remain optimistic - but it's all they can do in the face of these new rules.

Friday 10 July 2015

9th July 2015 - third anniversary of UK's divisive family immigration rules.

photographer: Mark Stokes
The third anniversary of divisive family immigration rules saw campaigners, lawyers, politicians and most importantly, families, battle tube and train strikes to voice their opposition to rules which keep parents apart from children; spouses and partners separated; elderly relatives to fend for themselves.

Sadly, more often than not, those paying the highest price for simply wanting to live in the UK are British citizens, mis-treated by the political elite, who in the pursuit of a net migration target (its ridiculousness evident to all who understand the components of it) are all too willing to sacrifice the very people they are employed to represent.

The number of attendees were not as high as in previous years because of transport issues, yet the day - meeting, demo and 'after-party' - were no less fabulous than previous years, for many reasons.  

1.  The panel at the meeting in parliament consisted of: 

 The panel at the MRN-organised meeting in parliament. Photographer: Mark Stokes
Baroness Sally Hamwee - a long-time supported in the campaign against these immigration rules.
Gethin Jones - husband and father, separated from his Russian wife and one British child.
David Hanson MP - Shadow Immigration Minister (but possibly not come September!)
Natalie Bennett - Leader of the Green Party
Stuart McDonald MP - Member of the Scottish National Party
Anne Longfied - Children's Commissioner for England
Ryan Shorthouse - representative of the Conservative thinktank, Bright Blue

And from the back, Colin Yeo - barrister and freemovement.org.uk founder
View of each of these speakers varied, but they were unanimous in agreeing that the rules are not fit for purpose.  (I'll update this page with a bit on what each said when I have more energy and time!)

2. It saw the coming together of all those who are apart from loved ones, instilling confidence in the knowledge no one is alone in this battle.  It also provided an opportunity to meet people, many of whom till now have simply been faces behind a profile photo - time for lots of hugs and laughter.

3. As time goes by, more families will find themselves affected by the rules.  However, more are also finding a solution, and this 9th July was a demonstration in humanity outliving our own selfish purposes with a very high percentage of attendees now united with their family in the UK - under domestic rules or EEA regulations (Surinder Singh) - yet showing up to encourage those still divided.
Wayne proudly displays his cap, an ode to the man who paved the way for family reunification - photographer: Sonel
There were so many messages of love triumphing, of the benefits of free movement rights, of encouragement that however hard the battle, the prize of family reunification was well worth it.  Yes, there were tears of pent up grief at the emotional rollercoaster resulting from the rules and their application; stress from moving countries multiple times; sadness for events that could only be shared on Skype; lamenting at missed firsts of babies; but also,joy and an overpowering sense of relief at being able to defeat the Home Office in a battle reminiscent of David versus Goliath.
Roz gets emotional recalling her journey to family reunification in the UK, with Ivy in tow - photographer:Sonel
I was especially inspired by the strength of the divided and hope from the united; the almost passing of the baton, as if saying 'now it's your turn to be with your family'.

4. The chance it afforded so many to voice how the rules have impacted (message to Gove: I am no longer a civil servant) them, a therapeutic activity with an audience who really does understand.  There was an en masse gasp of incredulity at being told of an Indonesian's mum refusal letter suggesting her presence in the UK to be with her British baby was not necessary because breastfeeding is a lifestyle choice! Beggars belief, unless you know that Home Office has provided reasons such as those below as well: (source for both is freemovement.org.uk)
Chloe and Charlie - all too aware of the government's attempts to divide families - photographer:Sonel
5. Removal of blinkers with the acknowledgement that the Tory party's manifesto claims that families are the bedrock of our society are mere words; that when David Cameron said in support of gay marriage, 'When people's love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change', he excluded rules/laws that were brought in under his authority.
An extract from the Tory election manifesto - photographer:Sonel
 Dani with her placard, pointin out the obvious hypocrisy underlying Cameron's statement - photographer:Sonel

6. The weather was perfect, with industrial action thrusting the glorious London skyline on those who ordinarily lose themselves in the coloured tunnels that is the London Underground.  The gathering at a nearby pub, the Red Lion, saw drinks being shared, many a conversation take place - not all immigration related - and even displays of card and coin magic tricks.

What never ceases to amaze me is the 'but I'm British' sentiment echoed repeatedly, and that's what we need to give the loudest voice to, as even those most opposed to immigration tend to support policies allowing Brits to live in the UK with immediate family.  How can they not if all the commotion around wanting to replicate Australia's immigration policy is genuine? Australia has no income requirement for sponsorhsip of spouses/partners and encourage sponsorship of parents of its adult citizens whilst they are younger, healthier and thus better able to integrate. 

UK's immigration rules particularly discriminate against British citizens whose passports are somewhat hypocritically printed with a request and requirement for other nations, 'in the Name of Her Majesty all those it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary'.  A request and requirement for other nations to do for British citizens what the British government chooses not to do itself.  
For tweets of the events, look up #DividedFamilies
Some photos of the event here.
Coverage of the demo by the guardian

Tuesday 7 July 2015

MM case

We earlier looked at the first two prongs of the attack on UK families, by UK politicians:

1) Raising the age at which a British citizen could sponsor a non-EEA partner to age 21, in Quila, which the Supreme Court deemed was unlawful and hence the age was brought back down to 18
2) Introduction of a pre-entry English language test, on which a ruling from the Supreme Court is awaited, in Bibi.

This time we look at the third prong which has also been the most damaging in terms of the number of people affected, relating to a case most readers will be familiar wit - the MM case, challenging the £18,600 threshold, but also exclusion of third party support, bizarre lump sum multiplier to make up salary shortfalls, rigidity in application of the rules and no allowance for Article 8 and s55 (best interest of children) by caseworkers, amongst other things.

BritCits got involved just before the case was heard at the Court of Appeal.  We worked with the MM lawyers and submitted  this witness statement .  Also read our overview of the two-day hearing and the horrid Court of Appeal judgment.

On 19th May 2015, the Supreme Court granted permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s judgment to all four of the appellants with 'MM' as the Lead Appeal and the other three dealing only with the points MM does not.

No date for the hearing has been given yet but the legal team expect it to be no earlier than November 2015.  I hope by this time next year at least we have in place family immigration rules that are fair!

8th July update:
Today we received confirmation that the MM case hearing will be from Wednesday 24th February to Friday 26th February in the Supreme Court.

Three days of hearing is welcomed, given there are four appellants and the volume of evidence to be submitted against these rules.

It is possible to go in and watch the hearing in person - and for those who are able to, this is strongly encouraged as it also shows the judges the public interest in the case and the people directly impacted. 

For those who can't make it however (or simply wish to watch the hearing again), we understand the Supreme Court also puts out webcasts that will alllow the watching of the rules, certainly as a recording after the event, but possibly live as well.

More on this closer to the time though we hope 9th July 2016 will no longer need to be a protest against the family immigration rules.

Monday 6 July 2015

Surinder Singh country guide

About to embark on exercising your free movement rights? Not sure how to go about applying for a Residence Card, or finding a job? Wish to know what the best areas are for housing, schools and shopping? 

Read our Surinder Singh country guide collating experiences of members to help make your journey smoother.

If you have any suggestions or tips to help others, please let us know, and we'll include it in the next update.

Friday 3 July 2015

Updated - Legal challenge to the ADR rules

Below is some background on our legal challenge of the ADR rules - this page will be updated with any developments.

Last update: 4th March 2016

UPDATE: Upon review of our papers in December 2015, a judge decided that our application for pemission should be allowed on all grounds, and that despite the HO assertion, BritCits does in fact have sufficient standing to make the claim.  The hearing will be at the High Court over two days, 19th and 20th April.  More info here.

What is this legal challenge about?

On 9th July 2012, UK brought in rules for sponsoring adult dependant relatives (parents, grandparents) which have been deemed a ban masquerading as a rule. The earlier rules already required evidence to show the sponsor had the means to look after their parents without recourse to public funds.  The earlier rules also had scope for well-off parents to move to the UK as retired people of independent means, though this is no longer allowed either. 

The rules are found to be so harsh because they now only allow for sponsoring an ADR where they physically are unable to dress, bathe or cook for themselves, and even then, there is other criteria to meet. 
You as the sponsor would ALSO need to show:

1) there are no family or close friends in your parent's home country who can look after them
2) there is no one you can employ in your parent's home country who can look after them, or,
 that you and your parents cannot afford to pay someone to help with their care because it is so expensive, even with the help of social care, but
3) that you do have the money to look after them in the UK without recourse to public funds.

It's a very rare situation where someone has money to look after a bed-ridden parent in the UK, but not enough to say pay someone to look after them.  Monaco is the only example we can think of!  Furthermore, when your parents are in that vulnerable situation, is that really when you want to be battling the Home Office, spending years in court?  There is absolutely no scope to sponsor reasonably healthy or parents with mild problems.

I have been speaking out against these rules online since June 2012, and more vocally since 9th July 2012.  It's taken a couple of years to get the issue out there enough and I was very pleased when with all my pushing and prodding, including as part of the Divided Families campaign, convinced JCWI to take a serious look at these rules, and thus we worked with them to put out this report.   Our understanding is that after some consideration, JCWI chose not to pursue a legal challenge of the ADR rules, however this report does form useful evidence.  

As the rules are not going to magically change, especially now with a Tory government, BritCits decided to attempt to get the rules overturned ourselves.  However we need your support.  Please don’t wait for something to happen to your parents before you start taking an interest in getting these rules changed as time and energy will be scarce then, and know that we will be stronger if we all fight this together. 

What is the process?
Set out below is our understanding of how things are likely to unfold.
First, we must persuade a judge that material and arguments we set out on paper point to an arguable case, hence a full hearing in the High Court is justified.

We send the Government Legal Department (formerly Treasury Solicitors), as legal representatives of the Home Office, a copy of our 'bundle' of papers setting out our case, after which they will have 21 days (or longer if they request and are granted an extension) to file an Acknowledgment of Service and Summary Grounds of Defence, setting out why the Home Office believes our case is not arguable and thus shouldn't proceed.

Home Office finally responded to our claim and as expected, they refused us on all grounds, even questioning our standing to be the Claimant.  In October 2015, we filed a counter-response for a judge to consider the issues deserve a full hearing.

Our lawyers have done a stellar job in countering all of the HO claims and pointing out that even the HO has not been able to provide any reliable statistics. 

The next stage was for a judge to consider our bundle as well as the response from the Home Office.  Two options: judge could have considered our case was arguable, or not.

1) If the judge considers our papers do not disclose an arguable case, permission to proceed is refused. The good side then reviews the reasons for refusal, with a view to applying for an oral hearing to put forward our case (this will cost more money).   Worst case scenario - permission is refused and we're ordered to pay Home Office's costs.

2) If the judge decides our case is arguable, permission to proceed with a judicial review is granted and the PCO application considered.

Home Office then has a further 35 days to file and send a Detailed Grounds of Defence, and any evidence on which it intends to rely in court.  We also get time to file and send our evidence in reply to the Home Office's evidence.

The actual hearing date depends on the availability of the barristers, judges and courtroom.

Who are our lawyers?
We have instructed lawyers at Migrant's Law Project (Islington Law Centre) who have also been involved in the recent Detention Action defeat of the Home Office's Detained Fast Track appeals.  We have two barristers including a QC also on the team.  

Our legal team is VERY good.

How much will this cost?
Our lawyers have agreed to work on a conditional fee arrangement - i.e. no-win-no-fee basis.  We need to raise funds to ensure we can pay:
  • costs incurred whether we win or lose; whether we get permission to have a hearing or not. This includes filing fees, disbursements such as travel costs, translation fees etc.
  • our lawyers fees if we win (capped at the PCO)
  • the Home Office costs if we lose and judge orders that we pay the Home Office (capped at the PCO)
We have reached our fundraising target at JustGivinghowever donations are welcome to assist with the running of the charity.  UK taxpayers should also contact HMRC to avail of tax benefits. 

What's a PCO?
PCO stands for Protection Costs Order, whereby we are effectively asking the judge to set a maximum amount we would be liable to pay in order to pursue this judicial review (JR).  

The judge will look at several things:
  • level of public interest in this JR i.e. if BritCits does not proceed with the case then will the court instead be faced with multiple individual claimants, thereby actually costing the UK taxpayer more? 
  • likelihood of success
  • size and resources of BritCits
  • reasonable and genuine attempts we have made to raise the funds needed (in order to reduce reliance on other taxpayers) 
As part of our case is that the rules in practice disproportionately impact those who are working professionals, on good salaries and thus have the means to look after their parents in the UK without recourse to public funds, it is important we show that this affected group is supporting this cause.  If we don't raise enough funds, the Home Office would understandably want that to be evidence of insufficient public interest.

What has our evidence consisted of?
Several bits, but very importantly, your witness statements as provided to the lawyers and case studies directly to BritCits written up in this portfolio (regularly updated).  We were particularly keen to look at families where:
  • ADR is in a compelling situation
  • minor children are missing relationship with grandparents
  • UK sponsor working in health care, research, teaching etc.
  • ADR been refused visitor or settlement visa - gives us insight into mind-set of Home Office & judges
  • UK sponsor has relocated to another country where s/he can be with their parents.
Several law firms have also agreed to provide statements on their experience of the rules and advice they are giving their clients to effectively not apply, as the chances of success are slim to none.

How can you help?
Contact us to let us know how you are impacted at britcits@gmail.com
Donate and help us with the fundraising.
Tell your friends, family, and colleagues about this challenge.
Write to your MP letting them know how you feel about these rules and what you'd like them to do by way of being your representative in Westminster.