The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is being criticised due to new financial regulations applicable to those sponsoring a non-EEA national to enter the country on a UK marriage (spouse) visa, UK fiancee visa or UK partner visa. Since July 2012, British citizens and UK permanent residents have had to earn £18,600 a year, rising to £22,400 for a family with one child, with another £2,400 payable for every additional child in the family unit in order to sponsor a foreign partner to enter the country. MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, have been looking at over 175 cases relating to families who have been directly disadvantaged since July 2012 and emotions are running high.
Because many UK nationals were living abroad when the rule came into force, they now find themselves essentially exiled from their home country because they have no employment in the UK which would earn them enough to meet the minimum threshold requirement. Things are particularly tough for self-employed sponsors and British women who are at home looking after children or who are pregnant or have just recently given birth. Some are forced into desperate measures.
Speaking to the BBC recently, Amanda (who asked that her real name be withheld to prevent upsetting her family) said, ‘I earned over £40,000 the year my husband (a Filipino national) came to the UK with me. But my job is off-shore and if I got pregnant I could not work. There’s no crèche out at sea and taking a year off just wasn’t an option . . . So I panicked [and asked for an abortion]. My doctor said, “This is disgusting. This could be the last time you could have children.” But I didn’t feel I had a choice. I came out of the doctors crying – a married woman shouldn’t have to cry and be forced into a decision like that. I’ve had some counselling, I’ve been depressed. It destroyed a lot of things in our relationship for months. If it wasn’t for the immigration rules I wouldn’t have had an abortion.’
This extreme case underlines the lengths to which some people are forced to go. Other families are being put in impossible positions in which children are failing to bond with an absent parent. A UK resident separated for many months from her Lebanese husband has chosen to return to Lebanon rather than keep the children from their father any longer. The area where he lives and works is considered by the Foreign Office to be unsafe to visit, but even so, she feels that splitting the family any longer is not an option. Others are making similar choices and are not returning to the UK despite having much to offer, to avoid splitting a family unit.
Sarah and Chilean naval commander Eduardo (whose names have been changed) married and are adopting a baby. She speaks four languages, has two law degrees and is a former fast-tracked civil servant, but feels that she is exiled from our own country. She says, ‘I am working as a translator in three languages but have always planned to take time to look after our baby. He has lived the first few months of his life in a children’s home and I want to give him all the love and cuddles the world has forced him to miss out on.’ Even without taking her child’s needs into account, Sarah is not willing to be separated from her husband.
Although the visa rules were set up to avoid an unsupportable burden on the tax payer and to prevent families coming in from abroad claiming benefits on arrival, many human right organisations are calling for more flexibility, so that families who for various reasons cannot meet the threshold of savings and yet will be no burden on the state, can stay together and bring something significant to the country as a whole.
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