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.
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.
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.
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.