For the past few months in the UK there has been a shitstorm surrounding immigration. Ol’ Blighty’s right-wing papers have splashed their front pages with hateful, barely silent, and blatantly racist propaganda.
So why should Asia Pundits care about any of this? Well, if you’re British and plan on marrying someone from this continent (or any other besides the EU), the coalition government will do everything in its power to stop you from settling down in the UK.
And if you’re not British, nor plan on marrying a Brit, stick around to see how the Conservative Party (the Tories) are denying us our Human Rights.
The Nasty Party
The current immigration policy for UK citizens with a non-EU spouse requires the British partner earn at least £18,600 ($30,650 USD) a year before their spouse can settle in the UK. The foreigner has to apply for a spousal visa from within their own country, which can take up to two years meaning couples are separated by thousands of miles and mountains of paperwork.
Throw children into the mix and the parents are still separated. For one child the Brit will need a £22,000 ($36,250) a year job. Any further kids cost a further £2,400 ($3,954).
The Tories are just as rich and out of touch as the U.S. Republicans but not quite as sanctimonious or loopy. They claim these rules will lead to lower immigration numbers, and ease the financial burden on British taxpayers, despite a recent study by the University College London suggesting immigrants are less likely to claim benefits.
The Centre of Life
Yet there is another way for international couples to legally live in the UK known as The Surinder Singh Route (SS route). Named after a 2006 court ruling, the SS route relies on EU free movement laws that loophole the UK’s stringent limitations. It involves living and working in another European Economic Area (EEA) state until the couple qualify for an EEA family permit. At which point European law trumps UK law, and the couple is free to enter.
However, the Tories have since changed the wording of the SS policy purposely complicating matters for international couples. Since January 1st, the policy now states “the British citizen must have transferred the ‘centre of their life’ to another member State before their family members can benefit from the Singh provisions.” The reason for the changes, the policy states, are to ensure the British citizen’s use of EU law are genuine.
Defining ‘centre of life’ is purposefully open to interpretation, and a direct attempt to complicate the rule. The new wording makes it easier for the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to bring down a nice big denial stamp on everyone’s visa application. No other EU countries require any of this. In fact it is easier for EU citizens with non EU spouses to live and work in the UK than Britons in the same situation.
Go back to your own country!
I spoke with 21-year-old Rose, who is engaged to marry her Tunisian fiancée, Mehdi, about their efforts to live in the UK. Rose feels the minimum earnings are way out of her league since she didn’t attend University, is from Yorkshire where the wages are lower, and as a woman the average salary is lower. So the SS route is their only chance of a life in England.
“I’m absolutely petrified by the SS route,” she admits. “The rules have been twisted by the UK government to suit themselves rather than abiding by EU law. Not only that, but the new rules are so vague, nobody knows how to follow the regulations legally. Therefore the UKBA are purposefully making it easier to produce excuses to refuse. All I want is to have a normal, working class family life with my fiancée.”
Rose is a recent member of a secret online group who offer each other advice, and share their experiences of the SS route. Feelings among the 1000 plus members fluctuate between confusion, despair, and occasional elation at finally making it home.
Nev, 27, another member of the group is thoroughly disillusioned by what the coalition has put him and his Vietnamese wife, Mai, through. “I feel as if a form of apartheid has crept into the UKBAs policies. Mai cannot return to my country because she is not of my race (I’m white European, she is Southeast Asian). If that isn’t racism then I do not know what else is. I am a British human being married to a Vietnamese human being, and we want to live as humans with our family close by.”
“The British government can dictate many things to me as a citizen to pay 20% rather than 17.5% in VAT but not who I can and cannot marry. A right to a family life is in the UN Declaration of human rights and the government is denying me these rights via its policies despite still being a signatory.”
Presumption of Guilt
There are many in the UK who demand something be done about visa marriages, but why are international couples, at least the ones not making 18 grand a year, assumed guilty until proven innocent? And how does £18,600 a year prove a marriage is not one of convenience?
Cracking down on Brits bringing in foreign husbands and wives is an easy way for the Tory party to keep to their low immigration quota. The Tories are forcing Brits into de facto exile due to the birthplace of their partner. Both the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 8 of the EU human rights convention state that everyone has the right to family life. How much money a person makes is not once mentioned.
For Brits on minimum wage; recently returned from overseas; young, or who never went to university, 18 grand a year is a tall order for the right to live with the person they love. So while the Tories might pride themselves on family values, if you don’t have the money, or can prove your ‘centre of life’ has changed, you’d better take your foreign wife / husband back where she came from! You’re not welcome to Tory Britain.
*The identities of those quoted in the article have been changed for fear they risk jeopardising their visa applications