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Imogen Lambert

UK law penalises British citizens for marrying non-Brits

Many couples now find themselves stuck in bureaucratic nightmares [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 May, 2017

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Comment: UK government plans to further increase the income requirement for UK sponsors hoping to live with a foreign spouse are discriminatory and harmful, writes Imogen Lambert.
In April 2013, Donna Oettinger hurled herself in front of a train, clutching her three-year-old son, Zachery. The two were killed instantly.  

Donna was suffering with severe depression, but one of her burdens could have been relatively easily solved; the Egyptian father of her son, Mohammed Naser, was unable to join his family in the UK due to visa rules.

"It all came from the stress of her relationship. The bureaucracy got to her. They would not let him come over, even though he was Zaki's dad. They were not allowed to be together," friends told The Mirror at the time.

Earlier this year, the UK Supreme Court finally ruled on the controversial immigration laws of 2012, which require British sponsors attempting to reunite with non-EU family members to have a minimum gross annual income of £18,600.

In a verdict that brought a crushing disappointment to many, the court said the requirement was lawful, but that rules concerning the sources of income should be more flexible, and the interests of at least 15,000 children separated from a parent should be taken into consideration.

While the Supreme Court and the UK government still seem to be haggling over potential rule changes, the Conservative manifesto for the upcoming UK election pledges to make the rules - already dubbed "kafka-esque" - increasingly stringent.
The government seems determined to continue to pass laws discouraging citizens from falling in love and marrying people from outside the country
If Theresa May continues as prime minister, she will increase the minimum income requirement for British citizens wishing to sponsor a family member. Evidently the government seems determined to continue to pass laws discouraging citizens from falling in love and marrying people from outside the country.  

The UK's income requirement for sponsoring family is the highest in the world, with the only exception of Norway, where the average is salary is much more generous. Prior to the 2012 change in rules, UK applicants only required a minimum income that a couple could live on, and satisfaction that relationship was genuine.  
Read more: Smart migrant Harouss knows his fortune lies beyond Europe
If international couples are part of the 42 percent of the British population who cannot meet the current rules, they have a choice: Join their partner in their own country, or remain in the UK, but separated. This had led British citizens to become exiled from their country, sometimes in extreme life and death circumstances.  

The Syrian husband of one British woman was denied for failing to include an English exam statement of entry with the application; he was living just ten minutes away from the scene of a chemical attack in Daraya during the civil war. 

Also in Syria, a British citizen's wife was forbidden from travelling to the UK meaning that their son - a British citizen - was in trapped in Deraa under regime bombardment. These are just two examples of many couples of mixed nationalities facing similar circumstances, where often spouses are forced to remain in zones of conflict awaiting reunification.
Theresa May brought in these rules as home secretary and continues her ideological campaign against immigration as prime minister
A number of British citizens married to Syrian refugees have even been forced to stay in Turkey in sub-standard living conditions, with neither having the right to work.

Even if couples meet the requirement, they must pay around £10,000 in fees, and often risk having their application denied for the most bizarre reasons. One British-Canadian couple for example, was told their relationship was not genuine - despite being married 45 years.

Many couples now find themselves stuck in bureaucratic nightmares where if the British citizen works in the UK - in order to meet the financial requirement - they are questioned as to why they are apart. If they stay with their spouse in their home country they are unable to meet the UK income requirement and are told they can simply exercise their family rights abroad. After being refused visit visors to Britain, spouses have been questioned as to why they haven't visited the country they wish to migrate to. 

Not only are UK citizens being punished with an emotionally tiresome and costly process - costing around £10,000 in fees, once they arrive the UK, the family are unable to claim benefits as this would put their spouse's application in jeopardy. The rules quite literally penalise British citizens for marrying outside their nationality.  
The pains that inadequate government foists upon us could be withstood, if only our loved ones were with us
Discrimination has traditionally been based on ethnicity and race; UK family immigration rules were initially introduced in the 70s, likely in order to curb migration from the non-white commonwealth. Now with the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, we are seeing that anti-migrant discourse is the acceptable new racism. 

These deplorable laws - which will presumably also apply to European citizens after Brexit - are symptomatic of this nationalist racism.  

Theresa May brought in these rules as home secretary and continues her ideological campaign against immigration as prime minister. Her hatred of migrants cannot be explained purely by a desire to win votes; some of her policies, such as including international students in migration figures, have fairly low public support. 

May has also introduced inhumane policies that target refugees: Those who already have refugee status will be reassessed after five years, meaning that they could be deported after settling in the UK. Again, this further erodes the rights of migrants in the UK until they gain citizenship, creating a mass of second class non-citizens.

A potential obstacle to the implementation of these rules is the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects family and private life. Europe has also served as a life boat for some separated families, who have been able to avoiding the rules by exercising their right to free movement in a European country before travelling to the UK as a European resident. 

Brexit puts our EU-protected human rights in jeopardy, and has already closed the alternative European route for families.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that it is impossible to cut down on immigration without causing significant harm to the economy and our services or violating human rights. Teresa May's obsession with migration will therefore likely cause economic and moral catastrophe in the UK.

Although "family values" have long been preached by the Conservative party, it seems this only applies when all the family enjoy British citizenship. 

Despite their cruelty, few will notice family immigration rules until it affects them, and when they do, people find it has the capacity to dictate their life - perhaps more than any other damaging government policy.

Benefit cuts, unemployment, substandard NHS care, lack of childcare support, difficulty finding housing, grappling with bureaucracy... The pains that inadequate government foists upon us could be withstood, if only our loved ones were with us.  

Similarly, perhaps if she'd had her husband - the father of her child - by her side, Donna might have been better equipped to deal with the other challenges in her life.  

Imogen Lambert graduated from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and has worked in social and economic rights in Cairo.

Follow her on Twitter: @InnogenLamb

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff

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