Chris Bryant: speak up for Migrants’ marriages too

Last night’s Question Time featured shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant, and on the topic of marriage equality he was excellent – passionate, articulate, and measured in his responses to those who disagreed with him. It’s great that he champions equal rights for marriage; I only wish he’d do the same when one of the couple is an immigrant.

The Family Migration rules introduced in 2012 effectively prevent couples on low and middle incomes – irrespective of their sexuality – from living together in the UK, if one of them is from outside the EEA. So if your husband or wife is from Australia, South Africa, the USA, etc, and you’re earning less than £18,600, you’ll have to choose between living apart from your partner, or leaving the UK. This is a blatant violation of the right to family life – yet the shadow cabinet have done nothing to oppose it.

Other members of the Labour party have tried: Kate Green has done sterling work in this area, Pete Wishart is frequently passionate on the subject (not least when the family migration rules were first discussed), and Kerry McCarthy raised Family Migration in the Commons in March 2013. In the Lords, Baroness Smith initiated the most heartfelt debate on the subject back in October 2012. But Chris Bryant – whose job, one would think, it is to oppose government injustice on immigration – has said nothing.

He’s made some very sensible statements on immigration, particularly during the depressingly Daily Mail-echoing back-bench debate on immigration in 2012, and I’m sure his heart is in the right place. So why the silence?

Maybe it’s because of the toxic bile spewed by the media on anything related to immigration. Maybe it’s because Labour don’t want to seem soft on immigration. Maybe it’s because Labour are still trying to decide what they stand for. Whatever the reason, the reality is that whilst they stay silent, thousands of families are being torn apart.

Imagine being told that you can’t live with the one person you love more than life itself. Imagine being told that you’re not welcome in your home country, because you fell in love. For generations, gay people didn’t need to imagine these things, because they experienced them every day. Now the same is happening to people who fall in love with someone from outside the EEA.

Come on Chris. Channel your energies into standing up for immigrants and their families. Stand up for UK citizens on low and middle incomes. Stand up for family, irrespective of race, gender, sexuality, or country of origin.

Stand up for love.

Young Labour Event: “Challenge the Tory scapegoating of immigrants”

Today I went to an event organised by Young Labour titled “Challenge the Tory scapegoating of immigrants: why Labour must reject Tory divide-and-rule as their austerity project fails”. Say what you will about young politicians, they sure know how to give an event a snappy title. It came on the day of the Queen’s Speech which had mentioned immigration, and proved to be a reasonably interesting event, with some informative talks by the panel, but what it really provided was a glimpse into the thought processes of the opposition party of the day.

To declare my allegiance: I’m not a member of the Labour Party, and this was the first Labour event I have ever been to (I found out about the event through the wonderful Eventbrite). The audience was filled with enthusiastic young(ish) political types – many of them local councillors from nearby counties, as well as a few journalists.

First up was Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and former chief economist at the Cabinet Office. He’s a free-market advocate, and cited research that shows that:

  • Immigrants come to Britain to work, not to claim benefits – indeed, they’re half as likely as natives to claim
  • Immigrants have a negligible, or at most a slightly positive, net impact on the exchequer

He’s argued similar points in both The Spectator and The Guardian in the past, so is at least consistent.

Next up came Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students Officer, who spoke passionately about the need to eliminate racism and stop scapegoating, in an enthusiastic, eager-young-pup manner that was endearing but not massively reassuring.

He was followed by Claude Moraes MEP, who talked about the way right-wing politics and immigrant-bashing has played out in Europe, with two main effects:

  • The tone of mainstream political debate is drawn further to the right, often leading to electoral failure for left-wing parties
  • Eventually people get tired of the relentless negativity, and vote against the anti-immigrant parties

Finally came Dianne Abbott MP, who spoke of the cultural habit of some established immigrants attempting to “pull up the rug” for new immigrants, perceiving them as a threat. Some of the key points she made included:

  • The scapegoating of immigrants is classic recession politics
  • The fewer immigrants there are in an area, and the more recently they arrived, the greater the fear there is about their possible negative impact

Her most important point, however, was that politicians must offer leadership around difficult subjects such as immigration. I pressed her on this point in relation to Family Migration, and she suggested that there was a view from the party leadership that it must appear tough on immigration; she suggested that this was an “ongoing conversation”.

Overall, apart from the points above, most of the discussion was around election strategies and how to win people over in 2015. It was clear from this event that there are some people within Labour who are as concerned as I am about the tone of the media an political debate around immigration, but they are somewhat on the fringes of the party, and their key concern remained winning the next election, rather than actively changing anything now.

Politicians, it seems, always have their eye on the next election.

Let’s stop calling each other racist and talk

The political parties can call UKIP as many names as they like – it won’t stop anyone voting for them.

Let’s take a step back: what is racism again? I get the impression, from reading the news and hearing political leaders’ speeches that a racist is some kind of repulsive, demonic creature with foul breath and blood distilled from pure malice, who inspires in any normal person a level of disgust and nausea on a par with the architects of the holocaust and Jimmy Savile.

Dictionary.com offers us a slightly different definition:

Racism or racialism (ˈreɪsɪzəm, ˈreɪʃəˌlɪzəm)
Noun
1. The belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others
2. Abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief

For the sake of clarity, I don’t condone abusive or aggressive behaviour in any shape of form (well, duh). What seems obvious, though, is that there are a great number of people who make assumptions about people based on limited information – and sometimes the bulk of that limited information is their race. I’m guilty of it myself sometimes. It doesn’t make you a bad person – it’s very human.

Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes, and we need to stop accusing each other, because it’s stifling debate.

Of course, we should strive to eliminate racism and all forms of discrimination. But we can’t achieve that if people are terrified of being labelled “racist”. They may well be racist, but that’s not the point – we still have to engage with one another and talk. Underneath the toxic noise that is the current media discourse around immigration and UKIP, there are a multitude of conversations around race and racism that we’re not having, but should have been having for some time. Conversations which ask questions like: What is it about immigrants and immigration that worries you? How would you feel if you became the only white family in your village? Why would you feel this way? What, to you, defines an immigrant? What concerns do you have, for example, about a Romanian couple arriving in the UK in 2013, in comparison to the (UK born) sons and daughters of 1979’s Pakistani immigrants?

So yes, lots of UKIP candidates may well be racist. But they’re not the only ones (click on image to enlarge):
A series of Venn diagrams depicting the overlap between loonies and racists, and the political parties.
…and we can’t ignore them, any more than we can blindly accept their policies.

Otherwise, Newsthump’s wonderful article may turn out to be prophecy instead of satire.

A Very Boring Blog

I appear to be writing the dullest-ass blog in the history of mankind. Seriously. There are paint-drying competitions more interesting than this blog, which is ridiculous, because paint-drying competitions don’t have the capacity to rip your life apart and cause years of misery and suffering in the way that the new family migration rules do.

Let’s re-cap:

  1. My partner is one of them bloody foreigners who are over here taking our jobs, breaking the NHS, causing cancer, eating babies, etc
  2. The changes to the family migration rules snuck in by the Government in July 2012 have introduced an income threshold, and extended the probation period
  3. Although my partner and I should be fine, should we be struck by the smallest amount of misfortune, we could face a heart-wrenching choice between exile from the UK or separation, as thousands of other couples have
  4. I feel as if the tone of the debate around immigration has become increasingly toxic in recent years
  5. I fear that without real effort to calm people’s fears, we could end up in a very ugly place
  6. I’ve written to my MP, learned that they’re completely failing to oppose anything the Tories do, and submitted evidence to a parliamentary group

So now what? In terms of securing my future, I am little further forward, and the debate around immigration isn’t getting much calmer, despite Labour promises to avoid an “arms race of rhetoric on immigration”.

I believe that the immigration ‘problem’ is really a symptom of a host of other issues: population growth, globalisation, post-imperial decline, inadequate investment in infrastructure, an unbalanced economy, and an unsustainable distribution of wealth. Each of these needs to be tackled, but crucially we must work on managing the change, instead of merely reacting to it. Tribal instincts are deep rooted in the human psyche, and unless we help each other to see outsiders as human beings, we’ll keep butting heads until we’re numb, blind and covered in blood.

I’m going to try, therefore, to write fewer boring, procedural letters and focus on people, as I tried to do (with little success) in my original letter to my MP. And maybe include some videos of pugs falling over.

A letter to the Minister for Immigration

Finally, after many weeks of not quite having enough time to write, I sent the following letter to my MP, who has promised to forward it to Mark Harper, the Immigration Minister. I’m not sure how much impact it will have: all immigration speeches seem to be given by the Home Secretary (or shadow Home Secretary in Labour’s case), suggesting that the Immigration Minister looks after the admin, whilst the Home Secretary makes all the real decisions. Still, I suppose you have to try.

 

Dear (MP),

As a UK citizen, I have grave concerns about the rules on Family Migration introduced in July 2012. My partner is a US citizen, and we will marry in June; I meet the necessary criteria to sponsor her. However, I am considerably upset that the Government has made the immigration system complicated, expensive and time-consuming. I work hard, participate in my local community, conscientiously obey the law and do not claim benefits, and I resent this interference in my private life.

The trajectory of the current debate on immigration also worries me deeply. Both Labour and Conservative parties have chosen to respond to people’s fears by adopting a ‘tough’ stance, focusing on welfare and stopping people coming to the UK with little, if any, effort to highlight the positives of migration. I fear that we are creating an environment of hostility and fear towards migrants that could have very ugly consequences, and would urge you to invest effort in calming people’s fears, and show leadership by highlighting the benefits of immigration, rather than pandering to our basest fears.

I have detailed my particular concerns on the Family Migration rules below.

1.       Means of Introduction

It concerns me deeply that these rules, which will force the separation or exile of thousands of families, have been introduced without proper debate in parliament. I would urge both the Government and the Opposition to have a real debate on the impact of the changes to genuine marriages – particularly with respect to the income threshold and the extended probation period. The victims of these rules are the same people with the fewest resources to spare to tackling injustice through the courts. Is this fair, given that separation from a partner will have an enormous social, economic and practical impact on the life of a UK citizen?

2.       Changes to the probation period

The changes to the “probation period” are particularly concerning to me. As a hard-working British citizen in a genuine relationship, I am aghast that my family is prevented from properly settling for five years, and must pay for the inconvenience.

2.1   Increased Length

The Government’s own consultation showed substantial opposition to the increase of the probation period to 5 years. There is no evidence to show that this measure will be a more effective means of testing the genuineness of the relationship than a 2 year period. Instead, it will create anxiety and insecurity, and is a barrier to integration with the local community. Should I start a family, if my partner may be deported in two years if I lose my job?

2.2   Break point in the probation period after 30 months

Why are you introducing measures that will increase the volume of applications to an agency that is already failing to meet its own service standards? This measure is a waste of time and money – both mine and that of every tax payer.

3.       Income Threshold

It concerns me greatly that should I lose my job, or wish to retrain (for example, to become a teacher), the new rules would prevent me from living with my partner in the UK, despite the fact that I would claim no benefits and would have sufficient means to support her. To my mind there are five key flaws with the current threshold.

3.1   Level

The income threshold set by the new rules is substantially higher than the minimum wage, and higher in real terms than the equivalent for most EU countries, and many non-EU countries. It is clear that it will prevent hard-working UK citizens on lower incomes – and particularly young couples starting out in their careers – from living together in the UK.

3.2   Rationale

An underlying assumption with the calculation method is that everyone who can claim housing benefit does claim. My first job after graduation paid me £11000 per annum, and yet I did not even consider claiming either any form of tax credit or housing benefit: I simply adjusted my lifestyle to enable me to live within my means.

By the estimates given in the Government’s own impact assessment, the minimum income threshold could result in up to 46% of applicants no longer being eligible. Yet the Government have chosen not to look at data on the uptake rate of benefits by migrants, which suggests that UK citizens are twice as likely (15% compared to 6%) to claim benefits than migrants. Why, then, are we excluding 46% of applicants when only 6% of them are actually likely to claim benefits? How can this possibly be proportionate?

Concerns over welfare should be addressed through reform of the welfare system, not by preventing hard-working couples on low incomes from living together.

3.3   Calculation Method

The Migration Advisory Committee’s assumptions are based on the average rent for a 1 bedroom flat of £100 per week. Whilst it is a reasonable assumption to use an average, it does not take into account the following factors:
– Regional variations across the UK mean that there are many parts of the country where good quality accommodation can be found for less than this figure
– People on low incomes will, logically, live in cheaper than average accommodation.

Given the large number of volatile assumptions in the Government’s impact assessment, it is clear that further work is needed to properly model the impact of immigration on the economy of a country. Immigrants are not merely a drain on the country’s resources: they enrich the social and cultural fabric of the country, they work, they pay taxes, they spend money in British businesses, and they bring international visitors – who also spend money – to Britain’s shores.

3.4   Savings Required

The income threshold can be met by savings, but the imposition of a floor of £16,000 makes the required thresholds entirely divorced from reality. The suggestion that anyone on a normal income would have £62,500 in CASH savings is absurd. Normal people will invest all but a modest buffer of savings into property or non-cash savings. Imposing a floor of £16,000 is punitive, out of touch with reality, and effectively prevents families containing a non-EU migrant from owning property or making other long-term investments, as they will feel obliged to hold more funds in cash savings to safeguard against job loss.

3.5   Contrast with EU migrants

It is now more difficult to obtain a visa for a partner, who in most cases will be in good health and able to work, than it is for an adult dependant, who in many cases will place a significantly higher burden on healthcare services. Furthermore, a UK citizen earning £18000 with savings of £15000 will not be able to live in the UK with his or her partner (if they are from outside the EU), whilst many EU migrants exercising their rights of free movement can. As such, UK citizens seeking to live with non-EU partners in the UK have fewer rights than EU migrants.

In conclusion, the immigration rules introduced in July 2012 are too complex, too expensive and too lengthy, for both individuals and the Government. The Government states in its impact assessment of the new rules that it expects the complexity of the new rules to result in an increase in business for immigration lawyers. It considers this to be one of the ‘benefits’ of the new rules. Is it really the business of Government to construct a bureaucracy that is so Kafkaesque in its complexity that it can only be deciphered with the aid of an immigration lawyer?

Governments must recognise and facilitate genuine, loving partnerships irrespective of the country of origin of the individuals, and ensure that they does not penalise all families in order to eliminate a small percentage of abuse.

The right to family life may be a qualified right under the ECHR, but must not be the preserve of the rich. Any interference with it must be proportionate to the actual risk of a cost to the state, and this risk must be calculated from evidence, instead of flimsy assumptions.

A response informing me of current government policy is not required. I would, however, appreciate a reply informing me if there is any likelihood of a change in the rules on Family Migration whilst the current Coalition Government is in power, and how this might occur.

Yours sincerely,

(T Cricket)

(Names in brackets have been changed from real names)

Evidence on Family Migration

As part of the parliamentary inquiry into the new family migration rules, I submitted the following evidence. The text in quotes are my responses, and above that are the questions that they have asked for evidence on; I’m not sure what I wrote exactly counts as evidence, but it has to be worth a try.

What does the available evidence suggest have been the impacts of the new minimum income requirement and new rules affecting elderly dependents on potential sponsors and/or applicants since July 2012?

From my own experience, I can state that the new rules would have prevented me from living with my partner in the UK, despite the fact that I would have claimed no benefits and would have had sufficient income to support her.

My first job after graduation paid me £11000 per annum, and yet I did not even consider claiming either any form of tax credit or housing benefit: I simply adjusted my lifestyle to enable me to live within my means. I was living in Scotland in relatively cheap, but entirely adequate accommodation, and had some disposable income. Despite being self-sufficient with adequate disposable income to support a partner, I would not have met the requirements of the new rules.

At the time when my partner and I decided to move in together, I had been unemployed for 5 months, but had an offer of a job. My income for the previous 12 months was below the £18,600 threshold, but after just one month with my new employer, I had exceeded the threshold. Once again, despite being self-sufficient with adequate disposable income to support a partner, I would not have met the requirements of the new rules.

It is clear that the new rules prevent hard-working UK citizens on lower incomes – and particularly young couples starting out in their careers – from living together in the UK. Literally thousands of marriages will be torn apart, and the victims of the new rules are the same people with the fewest resources to spare to tackling injustice through the courts.

It is now more difficult to obtain a visa for a partner, who in most cases will be in good health and able to work, than it is for an adult dependant, who in many cases will place a significantly higher burden on healthcare services. Furthermore, a UK citizen earning £18000 with savings of £15000 will not be able to live in the UK with his or her partner (if they are from outside the EU), whilst many EU migrants exercising their rights of free movement can. As such, UK citizens seeking to live with non-EU partners in the UK have fewer rights than EU migrants.

Does available evidence suggest that the new minimum income requirement for sponsoring non-EEA spouses and partners to come to the UK has been set at the right level? Please provide support for your view.

Evidence from a variety of sources, as detailed below, suggests that the new income requirement has been set at too high a level.

The rules assumes that everyone who can claim housing benefit does claim. My first job after graduation paid me £11000 per annum, and yet I did not even consider claiming either any form of tax credit or housing benefit: I simply adjusted my lifestyle to enable me to live within my means.

By the estimates given in the Government’s own impact assessment, the minimum income threshold could result in up to 46% of applicants no longer being eligible. Yet the Government have chosen not to look at data on the uptake rate of benefits by migrants (such as that conducted by the Child Poverty Action Group or Factcheck), which suggests that UK citizens are twice as likely (15% compared to 6%) to claim benefits than migrants. Why, then, are we excluding 46% of applicants when only 6% of them are actually likely to claim benefits? How can this possibly be proportionate?

The Migration Advisory Committee’s assumptions are based on the average rent for a 1 bedroom flat of £100 per week. Whilst it is a reasonable assumption to use an average, it does not take into account the following factors:

  • Regional variations across the UK mean that there are many parts of the country where good quality accommodation can be found for less than this figure
  • People on low incomes will, logically, live in cheaper than average accommodation.

The income threshold can be met by savings, but the imposition of a floor of £16,000 makes the required thresholds entirely divorced from reality. The suggestion that anyone on a normal income would have £62,500 in CASH savings is absurd. Normal people will invest all but a modest buffer of savings into property or non-cash savings. Imposing a floor of £16,000 is punitive, out of touch with reality, and effectively prevents families containing a non-EU migrant from owning property or making other long-term investments, as they will feel obliged to hold more funds in cash savings to safeguard against job loss.

The income threshold set by the new rules is higher in real terms than most EU countries, and many non-EU countries. Concerns over welfare should be addressed through reform of the welfare system, not by punishing hard-working couples on low incomes. It seems a cruel and unusual punishment to force someone who earns a modest salary and falls in love with a non-EEA citizen to choose between exile from the UK or separation from their partner, simply because there is a 6% probability that they might claim benefits.

Please provide details of any other economic, social or practical considerations relating to the new minimum income requirement and the new rules affecting elderly dependents which could usefully inform this inquiry.

The Government states in its impact assessment of the new rules that it expects the complexity of the new rules to result in an increase in business for immigration lawyers. It considers this to be one of the ‘benefits’ of the new rules. Is it really the business of Government to construct a bureaucracy that is so Kafkaesque in its complexity that it can only be deciphered with the aid of an immigration lawyer?

The combination of the income threshold and increased probation period will also place a burden on the already overstretched UKBA, and increase anxiety and insecurity for applicants. Should I start a family, if my partner may be deported in two years if my pay is cut, or I lose my job? Marriage in modern society is already all too prone to fail – what good can come of the added stress brought by such stringent and inflexible rules?

The stated objective of the income requirement is to ensure that non-EU family members to not place a burden on the benefits system, yet the Government’s own figures state that a much higher proportion of applicants will be affected than the 6% who claim benefits. Given the disproportionate impact of the threshold, it is difficult to see how the rules cannot lead to a high number of successful (and potentially expensive) appeals; this risk is mitigated by the fact that the victims of the new rules are the same people with the fewest resources to spare to tackling injustice through the courts. Is this fair, given that separation from a partner will have an enormous social, economic and practical impact on the life of a UK citizen?

Given the large number of volatile assumptions in the Government’s impact assessment, it is clear that further work is needed to properly model the impact of immigration on the economy of a country. Immigrants are not merely a drain on the country’s resources: they enrich the social and cultural fabric of the country, they work, they pay taxes, they spend money in British businesses, and they bring international visitors – who also spend money – to Britain’s shores.

Forcing UK citizens to choose between leaving the UK or being separated from their partner can only bring misery and resentment. Anti-immigration campaigners will not be satisfied for long by these rules, given that the vast majority of migrants are from within the EU; yet the impact on those no longer able to live with their partners will be profound. They will be stuck in limbo, their lives on hold until they can find a solution. These rules will create, on an annual basis, thousands of bitter, angry individuals, robbed of their chance for a happy family life by rules that don’t even give them a chance to succeed.

The Coalition Government stated that its objectives in introducing new family migration rules were to tackle abuse, promote integration and relieve any burden on the taxpayer caused by family migration to the UK. Are the new family migration rules meeting these objectives? What contribution to the reduction of net migration can the new family migration rules be expected to make?

The combination of the increased income threshold and probation period is likely, for those on the borderline, to act as a barrier to integration: how can a couple fully embrace together life in this country when they may be exiled in a few months? There is also no way to legislate for integration – it is a social activity that requires effort from both the individual and the community around them.

The rules may well have an effect on reducing net migration, but the cost is very much uncertain. We may have 6% fewer benefits claimants, but we will also have a further 40% fewer taxpayers and shoppers, and an immigration system that disproportionately interferes with family life.

What role does family life play in the integration process in the UK? How should the immigration system recognise and support the value of family life?

Family life is central to a cohesive, vibrant society, and without it there is no integration of individuals into communities. For our country to be successful, it is essential that all of our social administrative systems encourage and facilitate successful, happy and law-abiding families.

At the very least, the immigration system must recognise and facilitate genuine, loving partnerships irrespective of the country of origin of the individuals, and ensure that it does not penalise all families in order to eliminate a small percentage of abuse. The new rules are too complex, too expensive and too lengthy, for both individuals and the government, and have a punitive impact on poorer families, irrespective of whether they will attempt to claim benefits or not. The right to family is a qualified right, but must not be the preserve of the rich. Any interference with it must be proportionate to the actual risk of a cost to the state, and this risk must be calculated from evidence, instead of flimsy assumptions. We must minimise the cost and administrative burden on families, and allow genuine partnerships – whether rich or poor – the chance to succeed.

What Can Your MP Actually Do?

Following my not particularly successful correspondence with my MP and her office, I decided that email wasn’t working for me and decided to give her office a ring.

I had a very pleasant conversation with Richard, who I learned was an immigration caseworker in her office. For some reason, I hadn’t grasped this from our email exchanges. He told me that as an immigration caseworker he:

  • Is not able to answer all immigration questions – I’d have to consult a specialist solicitor for most detailed questions
  • Is able to chase up an application with the UKBA once it has been made, and find out where missing documents (whether supporting documents for an application, or passports) are if they have not been returned as expected.

He informed me that one of his colleagues would be able to help me pursue any policy concerns I had, by forwarding any letters I might write to the relevant minister, and request a response from him/her.

I found it difficult to believe that anyone would put much effort into fighting against a position that they agreed with, but Richard assured me that their office receives a variety of letters on various policy issues, some in support and some in opposition of current government policy. Irrespective of whether the MP agrees with the position stated in these letters, they generally forward them onto the relevant MP for comment.

This provided me with some encouragement – MPs are, after all, supposed to represent their constituents, whether they agree with them or not. However, I was still unclear as to whether I was asking for help from someone who cared passionately about my course, or from someone who would be pushed to give even a single hair from a lesser rodent’s posterior on the matter, never mind a full rat’s ass. Richard, bless him, diplomatically informed me that my MP’s position on immigration is the same as Chris Bryant’s position, and to find out her position, I would need to “follow” him.

Having done a tiny amount of research on this, I’m not particularly surprised to find that his position is, in fact, so opaque as to inspire a feeling of complete blindness. For the past two months, nothing on his website or twitter feed gives any real inkling as to where Labour stand on immigration at the moment. A search on www.parliament.uk doesn’t yield much either, though it does tell me he got paid £285 in 2010 for 1.5 hours. Nice work if you can get it. I also discovered that he used to be a chaplain, and his Diary is entirely highlight-free. The Labour website contains lots of posts in which he attacks the government, and he generally seems to be calling for more controls, with only the occasional grudging acknowledgement  of the harm the Government is doing to the UK Higher Education sector.

Depressing, really. Our politicians follow the herd, instead of leading, and won’t tell us what they stand for. And now I’m going to have to join Twitter. Balls.

Give Me a Straight Answer (Please)!

Despite feeling somewhat disheartened by my recent correspondence with my MP and her office, I decided to persevere. On reflection, it seemed to me that my initial letter, which was written in sincerity and hope, was overly long and unspecific. If my MP’s office is anywhere near as busy as mine (and I suspect it’s probably substantially busier), they’ll receive many hundreds of emails per day, and will only have a few minutes, if not seconds, to devote to each. Consequently, I suspect that if I want them to actually do anything for me, I need to be more specific and more concise.

With this mantra in mind, I wrote back to my MP:

Dear (MP),

Thank you for your email; I appreciate your replies and apologise for the imprecise nature of my query. I’d be very grateful if you could clarify a few final matters for me:

1. Is the minimum income threshold of £18,600 (or £62,500 in savings if you are not in employment at the point of application) for sponsoring the settlement in the UK of a spouse or partner:
a. something you agree with?
b. something the Labour party agrees with?

2. Is the increase of the minimum probationary period for settlement for non-EEA spouses and partners from two years to five years:
a. something you agree with?
b. something the Labour party agrees with?

3. If you or your party do not agree with either of the above:
a. What would you like the rules to be (whether more or less restrictive)?
b. What can I do to get these rules changed?

Thank you for your time; I will endeavour to pay more attention to Chris Bryant as per your suggestion.

Kind regards,

(Timiny Cricket)

I also contacted Richard, the assistant whose email I hadn’t really understood:

Dear Richard,

Thank you for your email. As we have not yet reached the visa application stage yet, I don’t have a home office reference number. What is meant by “raise this as an alternative”?

Kind regards,

(T Cricket)

Richard, bless him, replied to me; reading his response, I could feel him reaching for his ‘Patience Hat’ and placing it carefully on his head before he started writing:

Dear (Mr Cricket)

As you have not yet made an application I am unable to help you as I can only chase up cases that are actually in at the UK Border Agency.

If you are unhappy about a policy issue. You could give us more details about that and we could look into that for you.

Regards

Richard

My MP hasn’t replied to me, and I don’t expect to receive a reply. Why would she? As an opposition MP, she knows all too well that immigration is a highly charged subject with a vocal body of people who are passionately against it. It’s entirely not in her interest to express any kind of opinion on it. The more I look into this, the clearer it becomes that Labour are deliberately taking their time in forming their policies. And why not? They took a battering at the last General Election, so why reinforce negative impressions when you’ve no need to have actual policies until 2014, if not later?

On immigration, I fear, no one will stick their head above the parapet to defend those who can easily be ignored. There’s no political benefit to be gained from protecting the rights of the poor, when the poor are foreign and want to live in the UK, or indeed when the poor are UK citizens and want to bring a foreigner into the UK. Our democracy, it seems, has little time for the unpopular, unless they come carrying gold.

 

(Names in brackets have been changed from real names)

Our Day

Tonight I went to the Our Day event at the St Ethelburga’s Centre near Liverpool Street in London.

The first thing that struck me was the venue – a fabulously new – yet old – converted medieval church, restored following its near-destruction by an IRA bombing in 1993, tucked in between a modern office block and a grand regency building on Bishopsgate.

The event itself, despite being somewhat dominated by people working in the area of migration and migrant rights, proved engaging, with some interesting talks by groups who help refugees and migrants with life in the UK. I had a lovely chat with Josephine from Sharehoods and an equally lovely chat with the caretaker of St Ethelburga’s, as well as some more awkward conversations with some other people, one of whom accused me of working in I.T.

Overall, a lovely event, but a little insular, I fear – everyone there had a vested interest in migration, including me. It occurred to me that we have to share the fascinating, inspiring, and sometimes harrowing stories of migrants’ lives with those who have no interest in migration – who, indeed, would rather there were no migration at all – if we are to have any hope of calming the national mood on immigration. The  vision spelt out in the “Migrant Manifesto” (below) certainly feels like a long way away – and does nothing to address the concerns of those for whom immigration is synonymous with fewer jobs, benefit fraud and overloaded schools, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries.