"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 4 June 2021

‘Fall in love at your own peril’: Forcing British citizens to leave the UK

By Melanie Griffiths, Sonel Mehta and Candice Morgan-Glendinning

Every aspect of my life right now is completely curtailed by the government. I can’t do anything’

British citizens are denied autonomy over decisions where to live and establish their families when the person they fall in love with is not British or Irish. For these citizens, the State muscles into a very private part of their lives, whether that be through questioning the genuineness of relationships, the stringent and conditional spousal visa rules or heartless deportation system. Rather than treat these citizens as rational agents able to make independent decisions about their families, they are treated as deceptive, gullible or irresponsible, and the motives of their partners questioned.

‘They don’t see you as people, they see you as numbers.’

For those couples unable to meet immigration requirements or persuade a decision maker of their need to live in the UK as a family, the ‘choices’ they are given are to live apart in different countries or to leave the UK. The justification for this drastic infringement on citizens’ rights is the abstract concept of the ‘public interest’. The Immigration Act 2014 brought into statute that families do not always need to be situated in the UK. The Immigration Directorate Instructions states that the European Convention on Human Rights does not oblige the UK to accept the choice of a couple as to which country they would prefer to reside in’.

New research headed by Dr Melanie Griffiths being launched by the Universities of Bristol and Birmingham on the 8 June 2021 looks at how British citizens and their foreign national partners are faced with this ‘choice’ of separation or relocation. Drawing on interviews with couples and practitioners, including some BritCits members, the ‘Deportability and the Family’ project looks at the human impact of immigration policies that have eroded Article 8 rights to respect for private and family life.

Spousal Visas

Since 2012, spousal visas have been conditional on the British spouse earning a steady annual income of £18,600 (increasing with each non-British child). The sum can only be met by the British partner. It is above the minimum wage and disproportionately affects women, young workers, retirees, black and ethnic minorities and those living outside the more affluent south.

For those who manage to meet the income threshold, the spousal visa process is still long, ominous and expensive, with a high evidential burden to prove income and genuineness of relationships. Some couples spend years submitting applications and appealing negative decisions and thousands of pounds in applications and legal fees before securing this time-limited leave, meaning they have to apply all over again in 2.5 years.

Many families do not have the time, money or energy to keep battling the Home Office and end up leaving the UK so as to be together or living separated transnationally. Long-distance relationships over two time zones are draining and expensive, with particular impacts on children separated from a parent. The British spouses in the research described being forced into living as single-parent families. As a mother separated from her husband across borders said:

I can’t be a wife, a mother, work, cook and clean,  plus trying to figure out how I’m going to get this money for a spousal visa.’


Removal and deportation

It is not only the spousal visa that keeps British citizens living abroad or apart from their loved ones. Due to re-entry bans and visa restrictions, those removed from the UK face permanent separation from their families.

Couples need to reach extremely high legal thresholds to prove that a partner/parent should not be deported and to prove that the family cannot live in their country of removal. A family’s preference of where to live or standard of education or living is not considered justification to remain. Such families are presented the same ‘choices’ as those unable to secure spousal visas: live in separate countries or relocate out of the UK. As a mother whose husband was removed asked:

‘The whole family needs to move to another country, when you could just let one person stay?!’

            Photo by @angelacompagnone on Unsplash

Impact of separation

Challenging the immigration system and fighting to remain together impacts the whole family. Living under chronic insecurity, facing separation or relocation, with restricted access to employment and services, and high immigration costs, leads to extreme harm to people’s private lives, relationships, careers, finances, stability and physical and mental health. The British partner often has to work excessive hours or multiple jobs. Those whose partner is overseas may have to rely on expensive childcare or be forced out of work.

British children are collateral damage in these immigration decisions. The research included families where children had been separated from fathers for many years, only speaking through Skype or occasional visits overseas. Most had spent time living together, to then experience loss and separation, and often eventual distancing. Children experienced a range of developmental, behavioural, educational and emotional problems including depression, anxiety, social isolation, insomnia and feeling of not belonging in the UK. As one mother stated:

Yes, we’ve got WhatsApp and Facetime, but it’s not the same as that person being there.’

A national loss

The Home Office presents decisions around family life as a choice but this is not most people’s experience. Those living outside the UK often described their situation as forced exile and questioned what their citizenship really meant. All were shocked that they did not have the automatic right to live with a partner of their choice, challenging their sense of identity and belonging.

A government focus on reducing net migration has led to a loss of focus on the people impacted by these policies. The government must acknowledge the benefits of inward migration and what settled and stable families bring to society.  As one of the British interviewees said:

‘It is really shocking to be told that you can go and continue your family life outside of the UK. Why does my government feel like that when I’m an asset to them?

I’ve been educated in the UK. I’m a taxpayer. I’ve got a career.

Since the UK left the EU, more citizens will find themselves in these situations. More British people will be divided from the person they love or forced to leave their community and country to live with them. As one interviewee stated:

‘If you are a British citizen then falling in love with someone who is not British isn’t allowed to happen basically.’

Report launch 8 June

The report from the project is being launched during an online webinar at 4pm on 8 June 2021, in collaboration with the NGO Bail for Immigration Detainees, chaired by Baroness Shami Chakrabarti and with speakers including Sonali Naik QC and a person directly affected by these issues.  All those who register here will be able to attend for free.  The report will be also be available afterwards here.