Even an open borders enthusiast like myself has to admit that family based migration has its problems. From the dark shores of Telegraph Blogs, Ed West draws a link between family migration and forced marriage:
The vast majority of forced marriages in the UK are inflicted on young British girls of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, and yet last year 6,460 British citizens applied to bring over a spouse from Pakistan, the largest of any country; most will succeed, and every year 20,000 Pakistanis are granted British citizenship, many through family reunion. As that tireless anti-forced marriage campaigner Ann Cryer MP told the Economist three years back, as many as 80 per cent of Muslim marriages in her area were to spouses from the old country, and this ‘a way of getting around immigration controls’.
He goes on to say this:
Not only are those brought over often unskilled, rural and un-cosmopolitan, and so the least suited towards a diverse society, the overwhelming majority of cases involve people marrying those of the same ethnic group; in fact a large number marry people from their own extended family, and ethnic groups who marry their relatives are harder to integrate because they tend towards clannishness… such is the cognitive dissonance that immigration produces that many of the Left have been willing to ignore another aspect of this migration – the terrible effect on women, who can never enjoy England’s freedoms while the threat of marriage looms over.
West praises the government’s proposal to increase the minimum income you need to apply for a spousal visa. However, let’s look at this idea in more detail. The minimum income for sponsors is £13,700. The coalition proposes whacking this up to £25,700, a level which would exclude anyone on the national average wage of £21,000. The Guardian claims it would exclude two thirds of UK citizens.
The Guardian quotes a report from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, ‘United by Love - Divided by Theresa May’, which has case studies of couples and families who would be affected if this proposal were to become law. It is a choice between effective deportation, and giving up a loving relationship.
Anna is a 25-year-old British citizen who was born and brought up in the UK. All of her family is here. Anna met her husband Khalid, a Palestinian national, in 2008 when she was studying abroad. The couple married in 2009, when she was a student. Anna returned to the UK in 2009 and Khalid applied for a visa to join her. After 14 months he finally secured this. He came to the UK in 2010.
It is unlikely that it would have been possible for Anna to have been reunited with Khalid were the proposed thresholds to have operated at that time. She was at that point a student, and was in receipt of third party support from her grandparents and mother, who is the Chief Executive of a company.
The upshot of the above is that Anna, an indigenous British citizen who has lived in the UK for the entirety of her life, may be forced to travel to another country in order to continue to reside with her husband. So far as Palestine goes, Khalid is a third generation refugee who was born and brought up in Syria and is technically stateless, and therefore has no entitlements to reside in the West Bank or Gaza. Whilst Khalid has residency in Syria, certainly the advice currently appearing on the Foreign Office website is that British citizens should not only abstain from travelling to the country, but should simply not travel there at all because of the current conflict.
The proposal, which looks modest and reasonable, in fact amounts to class discrimination at its worst. As with so many of this government’s ideas there is a head-toss of disdain for the human lives behind the statistics. Theresa May is essentially saying: if you earn below a certain level, we can take away your right to marriage. Have a family. But do it our way. When I think of the people I’ve known who found love and happiness with someone who happens to be from another country, I realise that this issue should get the same kind of coverage as gay marriage. What gives the state the right to say that two people, who love each other, cannot get married?
Spousal visa are associated with Thai brides but in an open world it’s inevitable that more and more people will marry across nationalities. Many people meet their life mate at university and British universities attract students from America, Europe, Asia and beyond. The law against forced marriage is just going to have to be enforced by hard operational work and public funding rather than the easy option of yet more big sweeping strategic changes to the immigration system.
In fact the government’s proposal could make things even worse on that score. May wants to extend the probationary period from two to five years, meaning spouses will not be able to find work or claim benefits. The JCWI points out that women on spousal visas who are imported into abusive marriages will have their ordeal prolonged as they will be dependent on violent husbands for food. Its report has a case study of a battered wife who ended up in hospital, severely malnourished, having had her savings taken away by her abuser.
The coalition goes on and on about family values but the practical effect of its ideas will be to assault and break apart the family unit.
Update: Sarah A-B picks up on this.
For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?/Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
- Matthew 19 6-7 (King James)